If you’re experiencing the winter blues this holiday season, you’re not alone. This can be especially true if you just had a baby. Approximately 10 million Americans suffer each year from seasonal affect disorder, otherwise known as SAD.
Are You SAD? Understanding Seasonal Affect Disorder
SAD is a seasonal condition that is essentially the medical term for the “winter blues.” SAD is also four times more common in women than in men. In addition to postpartum depression (PPD), new moms should also recognize that they are more prone to seasonal depression, too. Dips in mood is an understandable result of motherhood, first the strain of childbirth and then the sleepless nights of feeding (and changing) baby. The winter blues only complicates things.
According to assistant psychology professor Catherine Monk, Ph.D., in the psychiatry and obstetrics departments at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons:
"Having a baby, even if it's a second or third baby, is a sea change in your life. That, combined with the fluctuating hormones as your body goes from being pregnant to not pregnant, can lead to major mood swings."
How Common Is Postpartum Depression? Why SAD & PPD Intersect
As Dr. Monk suggests, it doesn’t matter if you’re on your first, second or third child. Postpartum depression affects novice and veteran mothers, alike. In fact, 70 to 80 percent of moms will experience a mild form referred to as “the baby blues,” and about 900,000 moms each year are diagnosed with PPD. It makes sense that symptoms can worsen during the colder, darker winter months.
PPD and SAD are very similar in terms of external and internal forces changing. Externally, seasonal climate change especially heavy rain or snow, perpetual cloudy skies, less sunlight and longer nights can alter mood. Likewise, the hormonal, chemical, psychological, and physical changes a woman’s body goes through after having a baby impact how mom feels.
Defeating Winter Blues: Strategy & Tips For PPD Moms
The upside is that both wintertime and baby blues are quite common, so support and coping mechanics abound. Below are some tips. Be sure to also consult your physician.
- During winter months, as seasonal affect disorder or the “winter blues” amplifies symptoms of PPD, the best thing to do is to recognize what is happening. During winter, low amounts of sunlight reduces vitamin D intake. When vitamin D levels drop, so does your mood, so be sure to take your vitamins and especially stock up on vitamin D.
- Winter weather can also make people want to sleep more and exercise less. But regular exercise helps ward off stress hormones, improve circulation, and lighten overall mood. Even walking 30 minutes a day is said to offer great benefits, including weight loss and getting your “creative juices flowing.”
- The same can be said about eating freshly made and well-balanced meals that are high in protein and include plenty of vegetables and leafy greens. The act of simply cutting out temptations to pick up fast-food or pop a meal made of processed foods in the microwave can greatly improve your overall well-being. Healthy meals while breastfeeding also offer healthy nutritional rewards to growing baby.
Finally, get plenty of rest. In fact, chronic sleep issues such as insomnia affect 50 to 80 percent of all psychiatric patients. A Harvard study on the correlation between sleep and mental health concluded that 60 to 90 percent of people diagnosed with major depression have sleep issues that often result in chronic insomnia. Most new moms have to wake up every two to three hours to feed a newborn. If you are breastfeeding, pump your milk and team up with your husband. Work in shifts so that both of you can get rest. If you can afford it, consider hiring a nanny part-time for night shift duty, especially if your depression is worsening due to lack of sleep. Investing in your mental health is vital.
Baby Blues + Winter Blues: Final Takeaway
The holidays are fantastic and fun but can also be stressful. The same can be said about being a new mom. Babies can be sweet and cute, but being a parent takes work and comes with an incredible amount of responsibility. During this festive season, juggling motherhood and at the same time trying to ward off winter blues can be overwhelming. Remember: take a daily dose of vitamin D, exercise, eat a balanced meal, and get plenty of sleep.
If symptoms persist, see a healthcare professional. There’s no shame in reaching out for the help you need.