Postpartum Depression: Improving Your Self-Esteem

by Shoshana S. Bennett

newborn seen through frame of mom's armPostpartum depression is a thief. It's sneaky and can quickly steal away your good feeling about yourself -- in other words, it steals your self-esteem. If you've previously enjoyed a healthy outlook on your self-worth in your job, at home and with your friends and family, you may be wondering where that confident woman went. And if you've never felt really solid about yourself before, chances are those negative feelings toward yourself are not greatly exaggerated.

If feeling bad about yourself is mainly due to your PPD, your self-esteem will naturally rise as you recover. On the other hand, if your self-esteem has always left something to be desired, this is an excellent time to start shedding the old negative thoughts.

Tips to Get You on the Road to Recovery

Do what's right for you, not what's right for everybody else. If going back to work outside the home feels like the right step for you and your family, do it. If bottle feeding the baby works best for your family, go ahead. Whatever decision is at hand, you have to know how to trust your gut.

PPD can make you doubt yourself, so trusting your gut isn't always easy to do. When the doubts about whether you made the right decision creeps in, remind yourself that you made a good decision and that you'll be able to handle whatever happens from it.

Practice those skills you need help with and don't put yourself down in the process. Instead, congratulate yourself for trying. Everyone is better at some things than they are at others. The only way to improve those skills you're not so good at is to practice and be patient. Beating yourself up only lowers your self-esteem and feeds the depression. It also models unhealthy patterns to your kids and they'll likely grow up doing the same things.

Respect your needs and wants and take care of them. If you don't respect your needs and wants, others won't either. Write down what you need daily (and nightly!) as well as your longer term goals as you recover.

Remember, these needs and wants are personal and will differ from person to person. If, for example, you need to have privacy in the bathroom, make sure you get that privacy (as long as everyone's safe). And if you're hungry, make sure you finish your lunch, even if a fussing (or even screaming) baby needs to wait two extra minutes.

Set realistic goals so that you'll be successful. Challenges are fine and good, but until you recover, you need to make sure your goals fit with what's reasonable for you right now.

Concentrate on your strengths. In other words, concentrate on what you can do, not what you can't. Accept that the PPD will limit you in some ways for the time being, but also remember that you can indeed accomplish a lot. As you recover, the limitations will start disappearing.

Set yourself up for success and then acknowledge yourself when you accomplish the task. If you're extremely depressed, just getting out of bed in the morning can be challenging. So, set it as a goal, and when you actually do it, check it off your list and let yourself feel good about it.

Speak positively to yourself. Catch yourself when you're judging or doubting yourself, congratulate yourself for catching it, and then change the thought into something positive.

Put your negative feeling on a shelf long enough to deal only with what's in front of you at the moment. For example, if a family member says something judgmental to you, you may think, "My relationship with her is over." Then you may feel depressed about it. In a case like this, remind yourself that it was just one silly comment she made and that your relationship probably hasn't ended. If you jump from a little comment someone made (no matter how icky the comment was) to a catastrophe like, "it's all over," that the lack of perspective from depression or anxiety talking. Ask yourself what reasonable steps you can take to get your perspective back.