Beyond Medication: Other Treatments and Self-Care

Beyond Medication: Other Treatments and Self-Care

Medication, while important for many, really shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all when it comes to treatment of postpartum mood disorders. I’m not a doctor, of course, but I’ve learned this lesson over and over throughout the journey of my own mental illness. 

There are things I’ve discovered that each of us can do, on top of what we’re already doing with our doctors, to further our own treatment. I truly believe it’s just as important to be a vigilant advocate for our own mental health care, as it is to have good doctors.

“Self-care” is a word thrown around a lot. To me the word “self-care” means ways I can take care of myself to be a better woman, wife, and mother. Ways to put myself as a priority, to make myself feel good, less stressed or anxious, and more confident. Putting the oxygen mask on myself first before tending to others, so to speak.

I’ve talked to a lot of women who’ve fought PPD and mental illness in my own advocacy work and blogging about mental illness and suicide prevention. So the below  tips are a compilation of my own ideas and others’ experience as well.

What can we do to actively participate in our own treatment?

Here are my top 10 suggestions (in no particular order, except the first one).

#1 Sleep.
Without a doubt, the number one thing I can do to improve my mental health is get better sleep. It’s not always easy with a new or young baby, I know. Really I do. But it’s vital for our well-being. If that means asking a family member to come over and watch the baby while you take a nap, or asking your spouse to let you sleep in on a Saturday, then do it. They say “it takes a village” for a reason. You cannot do it all alone on little to no sleep.

#2 Healthy Eating.
Personally I’ve found limiting carbs and gluten to be a big help in decreasing my anxiety. Getting good protein, fresh fruits, and veggies too. It’s been a bit of trial and error with my diet to figure out what works best for me. But I encourage you to think about your own diet and how it might be affecting your mood.

#3 Exercise.
I admit, I’m not personally good about this one. But I have so many friends who get a boost from walking/running, yoga, swimming, or dance. I also know that the motivation to get out and exercise can be practically non-existent when you’re in the midst of depression. So this one might be an option down the road a bit when you’re starting to feel more like yourself. But if you can manage it, exercise is a great help.

#4 Creative Outlets/Hobbies.
For me, during my postpartum depression and anxiety, making jewelry was my savior. Now it’s drawing and writing/blogging. I know it may seem strange, but finding ways to distract the mind and calm you can really help. Knitting, crocheting, reading, gardening, cooking, singing, taking care of animals, scrap-booking, photography; the list goes on and on. A friend actually just had knitting “prescribed” by her doctor for anxiety. I just love that.

#5 Talking/Therapy.
Of course talk therapy with a doctor can be exceedingly beneficial, but so can talking to a friend. Even joining online support groups and “chatting” with those who get it, like the amazing Postpartum Progress community via our Facebook page or our private Smart Patients Forum, helps immensely. I say this all of the time: “Saying the words takes away their power.” Opening up to someone you trust and sharing your feelings and fears can absolutely help.

#6 Supplements.
From vitamins to minerals to herbs, there are a lot of things that might help you. It’s best to work with your doctor or naturopath to come up with what’s right for you. Things like Vitamin D or Magnesium deficiency can contribute to low energy and depression for example. St. John’s Wort has on occasion helped my anxiety. A friend of mine uses a tincture of herbs prescribed by her naturopath that has practically eliminated her chronic anxiety. Supplements are certainly worth a look.

#7 A Hot Bath or Shower.
I know new moms don’t always feel like they have time to shower. I certainly didn’t on many days. It’s a simple thing, but taking a nice hot bath or shower goes a long way to helping you feel human again. It’s very relaxing, especially if you can find someone to watch the baby while you do it. I’m not talking about a 60-second-wash-down with baby in the bouncer, but a really fabulous hot, steaming, non-stressful shower.

#8 Avoiding Triggers/Negative Experiences.
Discussions on social media or negative news events can be big triggers for someone with PPD. It’s really important to increase the positive and decrease the negative, and be kind to ourselves when the news starts to affect us. It’s okay not to listen to it, to . It’s okay to step away from the computer or TV news for a bit.

#9 Physical Relaxation.
Examples include massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, even a facial. Oh, such a great forms of self-care! And you SO deserve it.

#10 Alternative Mental Health Treatments.
There are many alternative therapies that you can discuss with your doctor. I’ve actually used hypnotherapy in the past to great affect after a trauma. Others I know have done a therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) (which isn’t actually an alternative treatment but a recommended psychotherapy technique used to treat postpartum depression and PTSD) that was helpful to them. Meditation and mindfulness therapy are other examples. I don’t know all of the options, but it’s worth asking your doctor if an alternative treatment may be right for you.

What do you think of these ideas? Do you have any other suggestions? Would love to hear if something has worked for you. You never know who might benefit from your experiences.

About Cristi Comes

Cristi is a warrior mom, wife and writer at She blogs about mental health, suicide prevention, self care and style. She's a survivor of postpartum depression and anxiety, and fighter of mental illness.

Tell Us What You Think


  1. I love these ideas and totally agree with the ones I’ve tried. Expanding on #5 above, getting together with other mommies, especially who have kids the same age was really helpful. Many hospitals have new mommy groups if a mom doesn’t have friends who have kids yet.

    About #8, reading parenting books and magazines can be helpful sometimes, but it’s good not to read too much. Sometimes they give a sense that there’s a simple solution to every parenting problem, and that just isn’t true.

    If weather permits, go to the park. The sunlight can be healing, there are likely other parents in the neighborhood there, and kids usually appreciate a change of scenery.

    Just discovered this site because of DJ Paris. Glad I found it.

    • Glad you found us Frankie. Those are great ideas, especially the parenting books. They can definitely be triggering when having a hard time. And getting sun/Vitamin D naturally is both great for the body and for a change of scenery, which is helpful too. Thanks so much for your thoughts

  2. These are really good ideas, and should be used whether you take meds or not, in recovering.

    It is a hard decision, deciding whether to take medications or use “adjunctive” treatments alone, such as therapy or exercise. The key is knowing when these treatments are not enough, and when medication needs to be used. I didn’t do so well with that decision, and went too long without medications, letting things reach a crisis point before I would take meds.

    I’m not a clinician, but I’ve been through this three times, and I’d suggest some “points of no return” where medications have to be used: (1) when you have thoughts of suicide, whether active “I want to kill myself” or passive “I don’t want to live,” (2) when you have thoughts of hurting the baby, (3) when you cannot sleep, even with the baby out of the room, with someone else caring for the baby, or with light sleep meds, such as Benadryl, (4) when you cannot function: you have trouble eating, or sleeping, or caring for the baby or other children, going to work, or doing your usual activities, (5) when you have psychotic symptoms – paranoia, delusions, disorganized thoughts or speech.

    A final thought, sometimes I think that our (and my initial) reluctance to take medications for PPD/A stems from the stigma associated with mental illness. In our society, it is bad to have a mental illness. It is worse to take psychiatric medications. Often I think when we try to “go it alone” without meds for PPD/A/OCD, something no diabetic would do, and few hypertensive patients would do, we buy into the stigma associated with having a mental illness and getting treatment with appropriate medications.

  3. Against my doctor’s advice, when she diagnosed me with PPD/PTSD when my baby was 8 weeks old, I also did not use medication to heal from my disease. It is hard to explain the complexity of my decision but it has many parts to it. I believed that as I hadn’t been mentally ill before my daughter was born, that I could get back to that point on my own, by allowing healing to happen. I know, how simplistic, if only! Certainly, therapy has helped me see that I also had a great deal of shame over my condition. My doctor told me this would likely be a 2-3 year process with many ups and downs. That is certainly true, more than 2 years later. I had many things in my favour that helped me, though, that I think were critical to my recovery. First, I live in Canada, where we get a full year of maternity leave. There is absolutely no way I could have functioned in my job in that first year. Meds would have been necessary if I didn’t have the luxury of a year of maternity leave. I went back to work last year, but only half time, an option that worked well for me. I could still work on recovery in the mornings, but worked in the afternoon. My recovery involved weekly therapy. Again, I am incredibly fortunate to have a health plan through my employer that covers the majority of my therapy costs. So many women do not have the things/conditions that are likely necessary to facilitate a no-meds recovery. My baby slept from midnight to 6 am by 10 weeks old; sleep, blessed sleep helped tremendously. I have an very supportive husband who picked up all the extras that I couldn’t do. It takes time, support, an environment that reduces all outside stressors as much as possible. I used my treadmill, when I could finally pick myself up. That wasn’t until over a year in. Exercise definitely helped and I knew I was getting better when I got onto a routine which wasn’t until 16 months after diagnosis. It’s been almost 2 and a half years now. I am working full time again. Am I fully healed? Not quite. I can see the light though. The road to recovery was brutal, filled with dark days and hopelessness for months. When I’m brave enough to tell my story sometimes, people say I must not have had “real postpartum depression” because I didn’t need medication to get better. Ha! I’ve been in the hole. I felt the grip. I had the intrusive thoughts, and still have nightmares. I’m still in therapy, once a month now. I still see my doctor once a month. I am a warrior. We all use different weapons. Mine didn’t include medication. Yours might. You do whatever it takes to win because your kids need you.

  4. Love this list, Cristi. I’d add my favorite relaxation method to #9 and that is a good mani/pedi. Self-care is so important. Thank you for reminding us why we need to make time for it. Especially during these busy holiday months. Now I’m off to work on #1. 🙂 xoxo

  5. Great article! I would add a SAD (seasonal affective disorder) light. I found a link between my PPD and the lack of sunlight after my November baby was born. But the SAD light can also help regulate circadian rhythms and therefore promote sleep and schedule!

  6. Hi Cristi – Very thorough list! I’m a big believer in complementary therapies. I love the idea of seeing a naturopath,, once the really dark thoughts and feelings are being managed….. and I absolutely agree that therapy is wonderful self-care. New mother’s groups in the community are wonderful interventions, to help catch women/people who need help..I compare them to groups such as La Leche League or AA, where people can find a place to rest and find support. Sometimes that’s enough, and sometimes deeper more personalized help is needed to process more deeply. It’s very individualized. thanks!

  7. I believe sleep is the most important item on that list. But as you say with an new baby that can be difficult…this is where it is important that for the dads that are around to help hand in hand with his partner to effect that help that mom needs. Thus giving her time to sleep a little longer. That what we did in my family….

  8. As a PPD survivor of 46 years and a longtime specialist in the field,I agree whole heartedly!!!!!!!!!!!!Have been sharing those coping skills for a VERY long time!!!!!!
    Kudos to you!!!!!!!!

  9. Great post, Cristi! Wonderful ideas!

  10. I’m so glad you mention magnesium deficiency contributing to depression (or in my case, anxiety). After doing lots of research, I began taking a magnesium supplement a year ago and it’s had a phenomenal impact on my well-being. I think vitamin deficiencies are often overlooked when it comes to mental illness … thanks for bringing attention to it.


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