Babywearing and postnatal depression

Babywearing and postnatal depression


Did you know that postnatal depression affects at least 10-15% of women after birth? These are official statistics but certainly there are many more sufferers (including men) who are never diagnosed with this condition. If bonding with your baby proves difficult because of how you feel, using a sling can become an essential tool of keeping your baby close and helping you survive tough days.


It is not your fault     

I was surprised to discover that so many women suffer from postnatal depression, it is not really talked about enough. Sometimes the underlying reasons are unknown, and sometimes it happens because of how our life looks nowadays (and it’s definitely not our fault). In the past we used to live in communities who were there to help in the first months and even years with a baby - take care of the little one, cook a nutritious meal for us or share their knowledge about raising a child. But in today’s fractured society there are more and more parents who are on their own with a new baby and who face expectations of coming back to their previous life and chores immediately.

Postnatal depression usually starts between 4 to 8 weeks after delivery but the onset can be anytime in the first year postpartum. The main symptoms are feelings of anger, fear and guilt, as well as obsessive thoughts of inadequacy as a parent combined with physical exhaustion due to the lack of sleep. Sounds familiar? Even if you don’t have postnatal depression, chances are you still experience some of these feelings after birth, but you also have a lot of happy moments. This is a real emotional rollecoaster and is called ''Baby Blues'' - a milder form of depression that occurs in 75-80% of new mothers and usually subsides on its own sooner or later. 


Acknowledge that you need help 

Even if it’s a temporary thing, it is important to act on these negative feelings, because they might affect your sense of confidence as a parent and impact bonding with the baby. There are many things you can do to get help: talking to your family and friends about how you feel, getting support from your health provider or doula, chatting with other young parents. In Denmark, where I live, there is an amazing ‘mother group’  program (mødregruppe in Danish) which connects fresh mums from the same area. Basically every mum has a group of fellow mums with whom she can easily meet up, go for a walk or just chat over a coffee and share experiences of early motherhood. Copenhagen parks are packed with mamas and babies playing happily together. I wish such a program existed in other countries too!

If you don’t live in Copenhagen, or your friends are not around and there are no young families that you can talk to, you can find online forums and support groups who might be able to offer some tips and be a source of encouragement. Besides help from others, there are also things you can (and should) do yourself to feel better during difficult times. Remember about healthy meals (you can for example prepare them in batches before birth and freeze or ask your family to bring them to you), try to go outside and spend some time in fresh air, exercise or take a moment to connect with yourself daily. And definitely get yourself (and your baby) a sling and try babywearing! It might sound trivial, but there is actually a lot of scientific research suggesting that holding your baby close will help you keep sane and happy.


How babywearing can help 

It was proven that keeping your baby close (especially skin to skin, which babywearing facilitates) stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that makes us feel relaxed and psychologically stable. At the same time, the release of oxytocin was also connected with a reduction in cortisol (stress hormone) release, thus doubling the beneficial impact of carrying a baby. These amazing hormonal changes occur both in baby’s and parent’s bodies when being close. Babies who are held by their parents quickly become calmer and cry less. Being close naturally helps them build a secure attachment and connection with the caregiver. Gentle rocking in parents’ arms or a sling reduces baby’s anxiety and translates into better and longer sleep. Finally, babies who are happier are of course easier to take care of! 

Babywearing allows you to carry a baby close in a wrap or carrier and at the same time lets you keep two hands free and thus come back to essential activities quicker. This is important especially in early days when preparing a meal seems impossible and leaving home with a pram is just too complex. Being able to go for a walk, meet with fellow mamas or do shopping with a baby kept snug and happy on the chest is very empowering and liberating for new parents. Sometimes when you are tired, even a short walk with a baby in a wrap can boost your energy and happiness because of the oxytocin release. Movement is essential for your wellbeing, and babywearing can help you recover your strength after birth and at the same time improve your posture (more about it here) - so give it a try! 

Nowadays wraps come in abundance of beautiful designs and patterns and can even act as colour therapy. Although it is regarded as ‘alternative’ therapy, colour healing has been around for thousands of years. It uses colors and their frequencies to heal physical and emotional problems within the human body. For example, if you're stressed, colors can help soothe you and regain your psychological balance, and if you're depressed, they can be used to invigorate you and give you increased energy.


Start with easy to learn slings    
If you recently gave birth and are feeling unwell or depressed, but are willing to make an effort to learn babywearing, I would suggest starting with ‘easy to learn’ options, such as a stretchy wrap or stretchy hybrid . These wraps are perfect for newborn babies and at the same time safe and uncomplicated to use. Similarly a ring sling might be a great alternative as it does not require tying, only proper tightening. A woven wrap is a wonderful option too, but because of its length, it might seem overwhelming at first. However there are certain carries that you can pre-tie (especially with a stretchy wrap) and some mamas swear that learning how to wrap contributed to their mental healing because it made them feel that they could still do new things. Yet another reason to try babywearing!