Postpartum Depression and Running: The Mind/Body Connection

Posted by Filed Under: Women's Running

Postpartum depressionWhen I was pregnant with my first daughter I was very active. In fact, I was in the midst of training for a half-marathon when I found out I was pregnant. Although I chose to veto the half-marathon, I continued to run and ran a 5K race when I was 23 weeks pregnant. So it came as quite a shock to me after I gave birth that getting out to run again wasn’t easy. I just didn’t have the energy to run after dealing with a colicky baby all day. I also had 100 excuses as to why I couldn’t run: I don’t have a supportive enough bra, the baby will need to be fed, the baby doesn’t want to feed right before I run, I just want to relax once the baby is asleep. Soon the days melted away into weeks, and the weeks into months. Six months went by, I hadn’t run at all, and my postpartum weight hadn’t changed.

During those first six months, I felt what only can be described as “foggy”. The sun would shine outside, but my soul wasn’t sunny. I felt no joy in anything. Getting dressed was a chore. Gross as this sounds, brushing my teeth was also a chore. I was so full of anxiety that I couldn’t sleep and there were times when I daydreamed that I would fall down the stairs and break my neck. I had fallen into a state of depression, only I didn’t realize it. I just thought this was the new reality, this is what being a mom was supposed to feel like.

I thought that when you’re depressed, you cry all the time. You know that you’re sad. What I didn’t realize is that any of these symptoms during and after pregnancy that lasts longer than two weeks is a sign of depression:

  • Feeling restless or irritable
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, and overwhelmed
  • Crying a lot
  • Having no energy or motivation
  • Eating too little or too much
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Trouble focusing, remembering, or making decisions
  • Feeling worthless and guilty
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Having headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations (the heart beating fast and feeling like it is skipping beats), or hyperventilation (fast and shallow breathing)

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Women’s Health Web site

I also didn’t realize that postpartum depression can happen anytime within the first year after childbirth. According to the Women’s Health site, “the difference between postpartum depression and the baby blues is that postpartum depression often affects a woman’s well-being and keeps her from functioning well for a longer period of time.” I was under the impression that it happens right away, and that doctors would recognize it while you are still in the hospital with the baby.

There are several causes of postpartum depression, including:

  • Feeling tired after delivery: broken sleep patterns and not enough rest often keep a new mother from regaining her full strength for weeks.
  • Feeling overwhelmed with a new, or another, baby to take care of and doubting your ability to be a good mother.
  • Feeling stress from changes in work and home routines. Sometimes women think they have to be “super mom” or perfect, which is not realistic and can add stress.
  • Having feelings of loss: loss of identity of who you are, or were, before having the baby, loss of control, loss of your pre-pregnancy figure, and feeling less attractive.
  • Having less free time and less control over time. Having to stay home indoors for longer periods of time and having less time to spend with the your partner and loved ones.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Women’s Health Web site

Mom On The Run - Frosty 5K March 2006Six months into my maternity leave, I saw a message on a local mommies’ message board. A new mom in my town was looking for someone to run with on Sunday mornings. I thought to myself, “hey I can commit to that”. Those Sundays with her were “sunny”. A month into our runs, I dusted off my treadmill and committed myself to running while my darling daughter napped. As a nursing mom, I started to notice an increase in milk supply. My active body made my mind happy. My happy mind had a positive effect on my milk supply. I felt like the “old” me, not the disheveled mommy I had become. That spring, I participated in the same 5K I ran the year before, only this time I did it while pushing my daughter in a jogging stroller (she slept, I ran). That race will forever be etched in my mind as one of my favorite runs and the day I realized that being a mom didn’t mean feeling “foggy” and “grey”.

As runners, the feeling of loss of identity can be a frequent contributor to depression. It’s hard to feel like the “old” you if you aren’t doing the things that help to define who you are. That is why returning to running and activity can be so important. Also, running and exercise release serotonin, the “feel good” brain chemical known for contributing to a range of functions, including sleep and wake cycles, libido, appetite, and mood. Along with changes in brain chemistry, there are other reasons exercise helps to make you feel good. The Better Health Channel Web site lists reasons like:

  • The person experiences a boost to their self-esteem because they take an active role in their own recovery.
  • Some forms of exercise, such as team sports, are also social events. (In many cases, running can also be a social event).
  • Physical activity burns up stress chemicals, like adrenaline, which promotes a more relaxed state of mind.
  • An enjoyable bout of exercise may be distracting enough to break the vicious cycle of pessimistic thinking.

Source: Better Health Channel Web site

A month ago, my aunt took her life after battling depression. Like me, she was an active person. She had suffered a serious injury that limited her activity and, as a result, she found herself constantly in the “fog”. I hope that this article will help someone, maybe motivate a new mom to resume her active lifestyle, or even motivate a new daddy. Remember daddies, depression can hit you too.

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About Janice Smith

Janice is a 30-something wife, mother, employee, runner, softball player, internet addict and a completely obsessed New Kids On The Block fan.w She has two daughters, 3 year old Sierra and 1 year old Brooke. She lives near Toronto, ON Canada and has just recently returned to running after having her second darling daughter. You can follow her journey back into running, and her journey through motherhood on her blog: Mom On The Run

  1. jeff on February 8th at 9:46 am

    AWESOME article!

    one of the things that smsmh and i have made a point of is making sure that she makes it to the gym several times a week. taking care of yourself is of equal importance as taking care of the baby.

  2. Sarah Jo on February 8th at 12:13 pm

    Wow! What a great article! I’m not a mom yet, but it’s good to know what I can expect when that day comes!

  3. Runner Susan on February 8th at 12:36 pm

    What a great contribution to the CRN site. Loved the article.

  4. Mom on the Run! » Man, I Feel Like a Runner! on February 8th at 12:42 pm

    […] off, go on and read my latest article on the Complete Running Network.  (I know, shameless plug :), but I promise it’s a good […]

  5. Belinda on February 9th at 9:46 am

    What a great article !!

  6. Kimmer on February 11th at 6:22 am

    Great article! Thank’s for sharing. 🙂

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  8. Beana on October 22nd at 9:15 pm

    This is so true! I think that active women can be especially prone to baby blues and/or post-partum because you naturally have to decrease your activity towards the end of pregnancy and after the baby is born. I wasn’t active before my 1st pregnancy but was after my 2nd and 3rd…and those pregnancies led to some serious baby blues, directly affected by exercise and lack of.
    .-= Beana´s last blog ..It’s a sign =-.

  9. Mollie on February 12th at 7:20 pm

    I have two kids and this was a great article.