Beating the blues: Depression in young mothers

Beating the blues: Depression in young mothers

Dr. Miriam Adahan

A major problem which is talked about in whispers but often not sufficiently

acknowledged, is depression in young mothers. There are many sources of such

depression. But the most common are:

1. LACK OF SLEEP, EXERCISE AND PROPER NUTRITION

Most people don’t like to think of depression as being influenced by diet,

because then they would have to take responsibility for making changes in their diets.

And with the stressful world we live in, the idea of having to give up our favorite junk

foods, seems overwhelming and unfair. However, most depressed mothers I meet do

not get adequate nourishment. They think they can fill up on sweets and chips and

still feel good, just the way they did as children. This is NOT possible. Poor diet

catches up with you in your 20’s and 30’s and can lead to major illness after 40.

2. ISOLATION

Think about high school and seminary life – lots of challenges, variety and

social interaction. There are stimulating studies with a variety of teachers, tests, an

active social life, long talks with friends, trips to various places and fun things to do

on weekends. Then there is the excitement of looking for a shidduch, getting

engaged, planning a wedding and the initial stages of getting to know one’s spouse.

But after marriage, and a baby or two, everything changes. It is difficult to get

out, especially with more than one small child. Shopping and sharing new recipes is

dull compared to seminary life. Communicating with a two year old is not the same

as talking with a best friend uninterruptedly for as long as one wants. Now there are

pressing obligations, crying babies and sleepless nights instead of intellectual

challenges and meaningful interactions. The major choices – whom to marry, where

to live, what work to do – have been made. The major exciting “firsts” –

engagement, marriage, childbirth – have now been experienced, and there doesn’t

seem like much to look forward to except more of the same.

3. EXAGGERATED EXPECTATIONS OF HERSELF AND HUSBAND

Many women need to work, either for parnassa or because they need the

intellectual and emotional stimulation provided by outside interactions. However,

there is a price to pay. Research has shown that women who work full time and have

young children are the most stressed group in our society, as measured by their

skyrocketing cortisol levels.

Young women expect that they can and must be super-women – i.e., make

good money, look like the fashion models, be calm and happy, have gourmet meals

on the table every night in her House Beautiful home, be loving mothers, fulfill family

and community obligations and satisfy their husbands’ needs as well. The truth is that

no one can do all this. Something has to give somewhere – and the ones who usually

pay the price are the children, who may be neglected or abused by overwhelmed and

over-anxious mothers who cannot bear the very normal, but highly demanding needs

of their children when they are sleep-deprived, fun-deprived and low on self-nurturing

activities. The average young mother feels ashamed and guilt-ridden because she

thinks she should be able to do it all without outside help. And she buys into he myth

that there are some women who are able to do it all, and do it all easily! In truth,

children are neglected if the mother has a Superwoman mentality.

In addition, she may have unrealistic expectations of her husband, i.e., that he

be as understanding, helpful and as available as her mother or high school friends

were. Few husbands can fit this bill! Meanwhile, he has his own needs and

ambitions. He may be overwhelmed with his own work-study schedule, may want the

same degree of freedom he had before marriage, and may think that because his

mother was Superwoman, his wife should be as well. He does not realize that his

image is probably based on his mother as an older, more experienced mom who has

built her self-confidence and probably had more help and less pressures.

FOR PHYSICAL HEALTH:

If you want to feel your best, you will have to:

1. Eliminate caffeine. In the effort to stay awake despite sleep deprivation, many

women drink coffee or cola or grab chocolate throughout the day. Caffeine is a

drug. Taking this “upper” only keeps you from knowing how tired you really are.

Eventually, adrenal exhaustion results, which means that the body simply cannot

produce enough energy. So you grab another cup of coffee or more chocolate!

Caffeine is an addictive drug. It leeches calcium from the bones, causing loss of

bone mass, resulting in more frequent fractures and breaks, as well as osteoporosis

later on in life. In addition, calcium is “nature’s tranquilizer,” so lack of calcium

makes you more agitated. Caffeine is also implicated in neural tube defects and

fertility problems. It takes two years after birth for a woman’s body to replenish

her pre-pregnancy vitamin and mineral levels, especially calcium. So if you’re

robbed of the little calcium you have, you will be nervous and depressed.

Consider taking a calcium-magnesium supplement if you do not get adequate

calcium each day. Calcium must be combined with magnesium, boron and other

minerals to be effective. Never take Caltrate or Tums alone, as you will become

more nervous due to magnesium deficiency!

2. CUT DOWN ON SUGAR: Sorry folks. I know this is hard! But sugar lowers

your level of B vitamins, which are the “feel good” vitamins. Sugar also plays havoc

with your glucose levels and weakens the immune system. Yes, you get a quick

“lift”, but this is followed in an hour or two with a low, so you grab more sugar to

pick you up again. The result is mood swings. You’ll have great difficulty

controlling your temper and being the calm, patient mom which kids need, if you’re

grouchy and your batteries are running on empty. Unfortunately, because sugar is

associated with love in our minds, it’s a very difficult addiction to break. But if you

are determined, Hashem will take away the craving. Once you stop eating lots of

sweets, you’ll be surprised to see how delicious fruit tastes. It’s as if your taste buds

come back to life! (This is said from personal experience.)

3. GET MORE SLEEP. Yes, there are those lucky souls who need only 5 hours

sleep a night, but the average person needs 7 ½ - 8 hours for proper functioning. Few

women get adequate sleep. They push themselves to stay awake, because there really

is so much to do. Less than 8 hours of sleep puts one in the category of a drunk in

terms of reaction time. Lack of adequate sleep is a major source of depression,

anxiety and aggression. It also interferes with insulin production, leading to a craving

for sugar, mood swings and a tendency toward obesity.

4. EXERCISE! Serotonin is the major neuro-transmitter in the brain necessary for a

sense of well-being. Aerobic exercise raises the serotonin level in the brain. So

it’s no wonder that women or children who are stuck in the house get crabby. The

major effect of all anti-depressants is to raise the serotonin level. Just twenty

minutes on a trampoline gives you 4 hours of enhanced concentration and

enhanced serotonin.

5. CUT OUT ASPERTAME. The aspertame in diet-drinks interferes with serotonin

production, and has been implicated in depression and anxiety attacks.

6. GET EXTRA B: Take a multi-mineral-multi-vitamin supplement with an

emphasis on the B vitamins. Eat foods high in B, such as whole wheat bread and

green leafy vegetables. I know, you feel you don’t have time to check brown rice or

lettuce, but you must make health a priority. Eat a whole wheat sandwich (Vitamin

B) instead of white bread (no nutrition at all). The taste buds are so dulled by junk

food that we lose our craving for healthy foods. But that craving comes back when

you “go natural.”

3. AVOID BAKED GOODS: Baking powder and baking soda deplete vitamin B.

5. TAKE NATURAL ENERGIZERS: Try bee pollen and spirulina (sea algae) for

energy.

7. TAKE HERBAL CALMERS: Passiflora, valerian, melissa, babonag are natural

calmers. (Do not use KavaKava, as this can cause liver damage).

8. TRY NATURAL ANTI-DEPRESSANTS: If your mood is low, such as DLPA

(Phenylalanine) and L-tyrosine (500 mg, twice daily) or SAM-e to raise mood and

overcome addictive impulses. (This is very especially important in the winter, when

the lack of sunlight can exacerbate depression for those with this tendency.)

9. TAKE OMEGA 3 (flax and fish) to build your memory and concentration and

calm your nervous system. A can of sardines is very nutritious. (25% of the brain is

Omega 3 oil).

10. AVOID HORMONAL SWINGS WITH TAKE OMEGA 6: Try borage or black

current oil if you are unusually hostile and irritable before your period. Take 2 pills

every morning, then an extra two 10 days before your period. 365 days a year!

Take good care of yourself. You deserve it. And there’s probably no one else

that will be as attentive to your needs as you need to be.

HOW TO STAY HEALTHY?

In the emotional realm, do the following:

1. FIND TIME FOR FUN: Do things that make you happy, especially exercise. If

you can dance or exercise with your children, that’s the best!

2. BE PATIENT: The “settling down” process takes years. You must get used to

being alone, in those four walls, doing repetitive chores that – in most instances - no

one appreciates. Be patient with yourself. But not all young women make this

transition quickly or easily. Many feel isolated, bored and unstimulated. This is

especially true if the husband is not understanding or appreciative or, G-d forbid, is

outright critical.

3. APPRECIATE YOURSELF: True homemaking requires doing it all with joy and

love, without any expectation of reward, except the intrinsic rewards of creating a

holy atmosphere, which is truly the most important and holy work of all. Value

everything you do for your family, washing, cleaning, cooking and shopping. They

are holy tasks.

4. GIVE UP THE SUPER-WOMAN FANTASY. It’s a killer! Perfectionism takes

all the joy out of your marriage and your mothering. You can either have joy in your

life or a perfect house, perfect kids and a perfect hair-do at all hours of the day and

night. No one can manage it all. You don’t have to impress anything except

Hashem. And all he cares about are your middos.

5. CUT OUT CRITICISM: Minimize interactions with all the critical people in your

life. You need support and appreciation. It takes time to build your self-confidence.

If you have critical parents or in-laws, minimize contact and keep conversations very

superficial when you do see them. Don’t share your feelings or worries with them, if

they are likely to blame you. If your husband is the critical, unappreciative one, get

help immediately, as APD (Abusive Personality Disorder) only gets worse with time.

If you are the critical one, join any 12-step group to overcome this addiction.

DANGER SIGNS

If you are abusive to your children or yourself, get help immediately. If you can’t get

out of bed or you feel you are on a treadmill, running madly from one chore to

another and only getting gloomier, please don’t be ashamed to seek help.

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