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All About Pregnancy

3 Surprising Ways to Beat the Baby Blues

The author of The Fifth Trimester shares the advice she wishes she'd had

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“Sleep when the baby is sleeping,” people told me when my first son was a newborn. But in reality, “Cry when the baby cries” was more like it. There I was: topless for the millionth hour in a row, sitting on my couch, weeping salty rivers of tears while holding a shrieking, tiny baby I loved, but couldn’t satisfy. I wiped my nose on a burp cloth. (Of course we were out of tissues.) Everything was harder than I’d imagined it would be—from the nursing to the nights to the mere act of showering long enough to get the shampoo out of my hair.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a full-blown case of the baby blues, which affects the majority of new moms (thanks, hormones). It wasn't until years later, as I researched and wrote my new book The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby that I learned about strategies that might have helped me not slip so far down. (Please keep in mind the baby blues are temporary. If you continue to feel down for more than a few weeks after giving birth, talk to your doctor to rule out depression.) These are the lessons I needed back then and they're better late than never; I find myself using them now as a big-kid mom, too!

1. Ask for what you need—whether it's a bowl of oatmeal in the morning, an hour to exercise, or something more emotional. Often, new moms will remember to ask for help with logistical things like diaper changes or installing the car seat. But asking for what you need from your partner, your family, or your friends is valid, too. Maybe you need to hear that you’re a good mom, that it will get easier, or that your career is still worth it.  

2. Rethink mommy guilt. Quick, name three things you feel guilty about right now. No, no, no! Don’t! After interviewing hundreds of moms in all fields and from all backgrounds in all circumstances, I’ve come to a very sophisticated conclusion that mommy guilt is D-U-M-B, dumb. Get this: Almost everyone I talked to said they felt guilty about some aspect of their life. The big problem here? Guilt, by definition, implies some kind of wrongdoing—some kind of other path better taken. But if we are all feeling guilty, then what does that other path even look like? It’s imaginary...and it’s not doing anyone any good in the mental health department.

3. Realize there's a problem with our culture—not you. You’ve likely read the statistics about how the United States ranks dead last in the developed world for its parental leave policies. That is sad, absolutely. But it can be liberating to remember that fact when you’re sitting on your couch in tears wondering why “you” are messing up so badly. You are not messing up. Our culture is...for now.

Everywhere else in the world, you would have better support systems. In France, you would be receiving physical therapies to strengthen you after birth; in China, you would have a month-long lying-in period at home with everyone to help. The good news is that you can play a role in making things better. One way? Be honest and transparent about both the challenges and triumphs of being a new parent—and find ways to connect with other moms who are experiencing the same thing. We’re going to eventually fix this, one new mom at a time.

Lauren Smith Brody is the founder of The Fifth Trimester and the author of the new book The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby. The former executive editor of Glamour magazine, she lives in NYC with her husband and two little boys.