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Natural Happiness

Using Exercise & Nutrition to Help Fight depression!

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Exercise and Depression

Want to learn more about exercise and depression? Many studies show that people who exercise regularly benefit with a positive boost in mood and lower rates of depression.

What are the Psychological Benefits of Exercise with Depression?

Improved self-esteem is a key psychological benefit of regular physical activity. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain.

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Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as “euphoric.” That feeling, known as “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive energizing outlook on life. Endorphins act as analgesics, which means they diminish the perception of pain by acting as sedatives. They are manufactured in your brain, spinal cord, and many other parts of your body and are released in response to brain.

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It appears that any form of exercise can help depression. Some examples of moderate exercise include:


  • Biking
  • Dancing
  • Housework, especially sweeping, mopping or vacuuming
  • Jogging at a moderate pace
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Playing tennis
  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Yard work, especially mowing or raking
  • Yoga

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Because strong social support is important for those with depression, joining a group exercise class may be beneficial. Or you can exercise with a close friend or your husband. In doing so, you will benefit from the physical activity and emotional comfort, knowing that others are supportive of you.


The Best Foods to Ease Anxiety:

Anxiety disorders typically require medication or psychotherapy or both- but that doesn’t mean lifestyle changes are totally out of the question. A balanced diet and a regular exercise routine might not be cures, but they can help improve overall mood and wellbeing.

Similarly, to the way certain foods have been shown to reduce stress, a number of foods and drinks may help to limit anxiety, too. Here are a few of the most well- documented:

1. Fatty Fish

fatty fish

In a small study from the Ohio State University, students given an omega-3 fatty acid supplement exhibited a 20 percent reduction in anxiety compared to students given a placebo pill. Rather than encourage the public to rush to buy supplements, however, “people should just consider increasing their omega-3 through their diet,” study co-author Martha Belury said in a statement.

***Tip- Salmon is a versatile fatty fish. All you need to do is stick a few fillets in a foil pan, sprinkle salt/pepper and olive oil and bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Good warm or cold- serve as a main or in a salad.

2. Chamomile Tea

chamomile tea

Chamomile has been utilized for its natural healing properties since ancient times, but modern science is beginning to catch up. A small 2009 study found a “modest” improvement on anxiety in people with mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) treated with chamomile extract.


3. Eggs

hard boiled eggs

The brain needs a wide range of B vitamins to operate optimally. When we’re lacking in the B department, we may experience confusion, irritability and anxiety, among other effects, Psychology Today reported.

Make sure you’re getting enough by incorporating B-heavy foods into your diet, like beef, citrus foods, or, one of our favorites, eggs. They have the added benefit of being one of nature’s richest source of choline, a crucial B vitamin for brain health.

****Tip- Boil a pot of eggs at the beginning of the week. You’ll be able to take one a day by slicing it into a salad, layering it in a sandwich or just eating it on the go with a sprinkle of salt!

4. Probiotics

yogurt bowl

We know that our brains and our bellies communicate-how else would we explain hunger, after all-but growing research suggests the bacteria in our guts are at least somewhat involved in the conversation.

The good ones, probiotics, live in the intestines and promote healthy gastro functioning. But in a 2011 study, Irish researchers found that feeding a certain probiotic bacterium found in yogurt to mice reduced “behaviors associated with stress, anxiety and depression,”, Discover magazine reported.

The study’s author called the findings “encouraging” in a interview with NPR, but cautioned that further research is needed.

****Tip- Stock your refrigerator with yogurts- reach one as a snack or pair yogurt with a banana or berries for a refreshing breakfast!

5Green Tea

green tea

Green tea is rich in an amino acid called L-theanine, which has been reported to have calming effects in general.

In one study, taking 200 milligrams of L-theanine before a test helped anxiety-prone university students stay calm.

However, it’ll take you anywhere from five to twenty cups to get that much from tea alone, reported

***Tip- Because coffee and caffeine are a big no-no for anxiety, make the switch to tea!


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Breaking the Myth of Perfection

By: A Yad Rachel Mentor/Volunteer


I once attended a lecture years ago about postpartum depression. I volunteer at Yad Rachel, and this training like many others was mandatory.

The speaker, a popular social worker who specialized in treating women of child bearing years, was asked to educate us on perinatal mood disorders. After spending time giving over many scientific facts and percentages, she suddenly shared a message that was both powerful and direct. “Ladies, there is a disease that is rampant in your community that is causing untold amounts of stress and anxiety. No, not postpartum depression. It’s called the disease of perfectionism. It’s destroying women and their families, and we must fight it!” She went on to share that in her many years of practice, she has counselled women of all different ethnicities, cultures, backgrounds. ” in general, women especially mothers, can be hard on themselves. But of all the women I’ve seen, Orthodox Jewish moms have placed unrealistic expectations upon themselves that are impossible to achieve or maintain that are bringing them to a breaking point ”

She listed the demands we make on ourselves one by one, and we all nodded along.

Perfect Wife – We need to be supportive, encouraging, and expected to look beautiful at all times or else we feel that we are responsible for our husbands’ unhappiness.

Perfect Neighbor – We need to do untold amounts of chesed for our friends and in addition be able to entertain or host at any given time or else we feel we have failed as a good community member.

Perfect Daughter – We live in enmeshed communities where we worry endlessly about our parents and extended family of origin and are responsible for their wellbeing and need to be a present and caring daughter- in- law or else we aren’t loving enough.

Perfect Jewish Soul- We need to attend a certain amount of Torah classes, refresher courses, read and study and learn and grow or else we feel we have disappointed   G-d.

Perfect Housekeeper -We need to maintain an optimum level of cleanliness, a constant rotation of mouthwatering gourmet nutritious meals, all with seamless order and routine or else we feel we will be labelled dysfunctional.

Perfect Breadwinner – In addition to all this, it is expected to at least have one additional job, and be best in your field, or else we feel we are labelled someone who is lazy and unmotivated.

Perfect Parent – We need to have large beautiful families, and treat each child like they are an only child, which means, seeing that all their emotional needs are met via attending yearlong parenting courses, hiring therapists and tutors, all while seeing all their physical needs are met by feeding them, bathing them, clothing them, playing with them, spending extra time with them, schooling them etc. or else they might end up in the streets G-d forbid and it will be all our fault.

She added Yom tov and Shabbos. She added external pressure – obsessing over appearance and weight, beautiful clothes in the latest most modest fashions.

She added chesed- being involved in tzedakah, bike-a-thons, Chinese auctions, and the like.

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She continued on about this insane juggling act that we do. The toll it takes on all of us. How impossible it is to do it all. How impossible it is to achieve this level of success in all these areas and how it’s called the disease of perfectionism. How it’s created a rat race where mothers are depleted and drained from all this multi-leveled constant giving and nurturing and worrying about so many things and so many others. How so many of these “perfect” women are crawling into her practice anxious, depressed, overworked and overwhelmed. Isn’t it ironic, she observed, how these women ended up being inadequate mothers and stressed wives and needing assistance from the community since they were falling apart from taking upon themselves too much. And knew in truth, if they would let go and just “be,” they would be fine.

It seems obvious now, but at the time it was eye opening for me. I never heard it put that way before. Labelled as a “disease”. Referencing it as such created a negative image which adequately depicted the insanity of it all.

Be gentle with yourself, your doing the best you can

When I think of a mother, a woman, I think of a tree. Strong, fruit bearing, reaching her branches out to provide shade to those around her. Growing higher and higher touching the heavens. If I continue this parable, I think of the expectation for the tree to grow and bear fruit. But it’s understood by both G-d and man that for that to happen, the tree must be watered, must be exposed to sunlight, and must be pruned and treated for disease or rot.


fruit tree
The tree is also expected only to produce one specific fruit. No farmer expects the apple tree to suddenly give forth oranges or blueberries. No one waits each spring for the tree’s leaves to grow feathers or develop stripes or spots. It has one purpose: The fruit that G-d assigned it to grow. No one judges the tree for not doing more than its G-d given capability. Everyone is okay with the fact that the tree only blossoms one season a year. No one turns to G-d demanding otherwise. We must have this level of acceptance for ourselves, too…

So how do we fight the disease of perfectionism other than listening to lectures about it?
It takes time and work and a lot of self-awareness to get there. Sometimes we need to be broken and hit rock bottom before we do. Sometimes we are lucky enough to be open to these concepts before we are affected by it.
You see, we need to fully accept and realize that we too, have limitations. We are humans, not super machines. We too need to be accepting of the best we can.

the strongest ppl perfectionist
We need to work on loving ourselves and not judging ourselves by society’s yardstick. We need to really truly understand that children need parents to be present, not perfect. That being a role model means doing the best with what we have at that moment and not doing what others deemed acceptable.  We must put on our blinders to avoid getting distracted by the high standards that others have placed which creates the impossible demands we make on ourselves. Only then can we focus on being happy productive mindful mothers.

This is the chemotherapy of this awful soul-draining disease.
This is a huge undertaking. Easier said than done.

never comapre your beginning
At Yad Rachel, where I volunteer, we are helping mothers heal from this illness of perfectionism. We see time and time again how much of a trigger it is, especially post birth when we are so vulnerable and fragile.
We stop women from beating themselves up for not being perfect enough, and we teach self-love, self-care, self-acceptance. We guide our wonderful beautifully imperfect women to embrace themselves. We believe that asking for help takes so much more strength and courage than pretending to be an all-around super star. That G-d doesn’t roll out the red carpet for mothers that are martyrs. (That it’s ok to serve frozen pancakes and instant hot cereal for supper, that it’s ok to text a friend “Mazel tov” after she has a baby and not feel compelled to make a four-course supper for her family of six if you’re not up to it!) We help eliminate the fear that eats away the self-confidence of parents and help them tap into their G-d given mother’s intuition. And with our women’s Wellness initiative, we encourage mothers to nurture themselves, so they can properly nurture others.

With our commitment to spread awareness in the community and educate women about PPD and other mood disorders, we have opened up dialogues about mental and behavioral health and have helped reduce the stigma which stops so many from reaching out.

We have come so far since that lecture. We have helped heal and empower countless of women. We have a long way to go. But hey, that’s fine. We are doing amazing work and we are doing the best we can. We are far from perfect.


The Fifth Trimester

The “Back to Work after Baby” Blues

By: Dena Neuman

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So, you’re going back to work after having a baby. How are you feeling? Elated? Terrified? Wracked with guilt? Are your feelings exactly the opposite of what you expected them to be?

I can see you, brand new Mommy, on the night before your first day back at work after maternity leave. Everyone else in your house is asleep, but you are not. You can’t sleep. I see you sitting at your desk, illuminated by the soft glow of the computer. You are typing Baby’s daily schedule for the babysitter, checking it over three times to make sure that you included everything in it, because how else will the babysitter know that Baby takes one short nap and then a longer one only an hour later? How will the babysitter know that he likes to be swaddled, but with one arm out, free to touch the world?


This article first appeared in Ami magazine. Please Click here to continue.

Lifting My Cloud of Depression

By: Tehilla Vanfossen

LiftingCloudDepression 2017


It runs in my family. But depression is a sneaky disease and it did its insidious work without anyone putting a name to it.

As I was growing up, no one said that my father was depressed — instead, he was ‘moody.’ My grandmother, who couldn’t pull herself together long enough to make dinner, was described as ‘eccentric.’

But clinically depressed? Not in my family, thank you very much.

By the time I reached adulthood, I was forcing my way through most days in a blur of emotional pain. Negative thoughts constantly pounded me: I was worthless — lazy and stupid — with no redeeming qualities. I didn’t expect anyone to like me — I didn’t even like myself. I never seriously considered suicide, but if I’d had a huge cosmic eraser, I would have used it on myself.

This article first appeared . To continue reading, Click  here



My Anxiety Disorder


We are not transparent. Our fears and struggles are hidden under the façade of confidence and nonchalance. An acquaintance once told me, “You’re the calmest, most relaxed person I’ve ever met!”

If she only knew! I thought to myself! I am the one who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia and fatigue, racing thoughts and heart palpitations. I am the one who clutches the little bottle of pills hidden deep inside my pocket while I struggle to breathe deeply and take it easy.

To Continue article click here.



It has been nearly two years since I asked for help.

Motherhood and life felt like too much of a burden for me. After years of thinking that the problem was me, it finally dawned on me that there might be something wrong.

I started therapy and found out that I had suffered from postpartum depression. Not once but three times. I also found out that the feelings I struggled with in my early teens were not just regular teen struggles. I found out that it was also depression that I had struggled with.

These past two years have been the most intense years of my life. I have experienced tremendous growth. I have opened new doors and have closed old doors behind me.

People talk about therapy lightly. They think therapy is nothing more than paying someone to listen and to give you advice. Therapy is no such thing. Therapy is facing yourself. Therapy is opening doors and looking into the dark corners of your soul. It is work. Hard work that sometimes  leaves you exhausted. Being as courageous, as walking into a lion’s den unarmed. Vulnerable. It is raw naked honesty and perseverance. Going down a steep, rocky and sometimes dark road without knowing when you will reach the end of it. It’s knowing that you can decide to leave that road at any moment, yet not giving in to that thought. Because you want to get well.

For the past two years I have been going down this road. To say it has been a roller coaster ride, is to take a devastating hurricane and to call it a warm summer’s breeze. The hardest part? Being a mother at the same time.

There is no time off. No time to lick my wounds or to take a break. When I come out of therapy I need to step quickly into my mommy shoes. Some days I come out of therapy feeling empowered. I stand tall and firm and switch roles like a pro. Other days I feel delivered, freed from a burden that has been carried for way too long. Those are the days that my mommy shoes feel like dancing shoes. Then there are days that I am exhausted from the hard work and I feel empty with little left to give. On those days my Mommy shoes are put on reluctantly.

Some days the carefully constructed bandages around my heart are ripped from their place and old wounds are exposed. My heart breaks and scatters into a thousand pieces. An hour passes as I work through the pain.  When the clock strikes reality, I hastily gather the pieces and put them back into place as best I can. I wear my mommy shoes, and though it is I that longs to be nurtured, it is I that gives the loving smile; it is I that spreads my arms in welcome;  I that carries and I that offers warmth and shelter.

On such days my feet struggle to find solid ground underneath my shoes. When my child reaches for me, my grasp is firm. And as I hold her little warm hand softly in mine, the ground underneath my feet gradually feels stable again.

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our author in the Netherlands, Mirjam.

Even though…

Even though you feel like a bad mother,
Doesn’t mean you aren’t a good enough one.

(There is NO such a thing as a perfect mother. It doesn’t exist. The desire to be one is what makes you great! Your willingness makes u great!)

Even though you feel like you are doing nothing,
Doesn’t mean you are worthless.

(You are valuable and precious to so many with a heart of gold that’s just broken right now.)

Even though you are angry at your kids and sometimes yell,
Doesn’t mean you don’t love them.

(Kids are resilient and more forgiving than any adult. They understand mommy’s not feeling well.)

Even though you feel weak and tired and can’t do as much as you once did,
Doesn’t mean you aren’t the strongest bravest person who is battling a huge battle with courage and dignity.

(Admitting you are broken and need help takes superhuman strength.)

Even though everyone around you seems to be managing and functioning,
Doesn’t mean they are judging you even if it feels that way.

(Compare and despair – not everyone’s outsides match their insides!)

Even though this PPD feels endless and hopeless,
Doesn’t mean there isn’t a light at the end of this tunnel.

(You will get better. You will feel stronger. You will become as a result a more empathetic, caring , loving person.)

Even though you have Postpartum depression,
Doesn’t mean it is your fault.

This too shall pass.

Thank You Thank You Thank You!!!

We are so thrilled to share with all our readers that our Walkathon 2015 was a tremendous success!!!!

For those of you unaware, our annual fundraiser is our Yad Rachel Walkathon, an event geared to girls ages 8-12! It takes place each year in the May-June time, on a Sunday morning in a beautiful Lakewood park.

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Our sweet Lakewood girls grades 3 thru 8 register a month in advance and spend the next four weeks raising money and collecting for our cause. They find innovative and creative ways to fundraise; bake sales, carnivals, barbeques, babysitting, or just plain old knocking on doors and asking!

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Upon arrival to the event, they are each rewarded with a prize depending on the amount they bring in – then the fun begins! Walking around the track, stopping at booths to collect drinks, nosh and freebies,  passing by an ice cream truck we parked there which gave out free cones.  Then grand finale- a breathtaking trampoline act by award winning acrobats!


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The atmosphere is exciting, the girls are enthusiastic and happy to participate.


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Due to the unbelievable large turnout, We had close to 100 volunteers, moms and post high school young adults, to supervise and cheer on the girls. We are so grateful to our yummy little supporters and all their commitment and effort.


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Most of all, Thank you, Lakewood community, for helping out these young entrepreneurs by giving them those precious dollars and coins, by doing so you are donating to our cause and supporting the important work we do!!! This is are one and only fundraiser, we depend on these donations!!

For those of you who missed out on the opportunity to donate, it’s never too late!!




S.E.L.F Care



Sleep-  A lack of sleep increases anxiety and depression. Mothers need a minimum of a 5 hour stretch with naps during the day to function.

Exercise- A little exercise moves your body, even when you don’t want to a little exercise is better than none. It promotes sleep and helps our mind by releasing endorphins (the feel good hormone).

Laugh- It feels good to laugh. It helps our immune system  and reduces stress. Look for fun in life, its there. tip: look in the mirror- stretch your lips to a smile. Your facial expressions are hard wired to our brains. Then look in your eyes and say something silly.. you will laugh ;)

Food- Always eat healthy. Low carbs, limit sugars and eliminate caffeine.  Keep hydrated- 6 glasses of water a day. Increase vegetables and protein for energy. ex: start your day with oatmeal covered in nuts and cranberries.

self care



Journal- Write about your baby’s day, rate your anxiety level with a number and then look back for good days and pinpoint why they were good.

Support Groups- Talking with others eases the burden. New moms share experiences, you bring the baby and can make new friends.

Therapy & Medication- If symptoms are increasing, ask your OBGYN for a referral to a mental health professional. Be open to hear a diagnosis and follow their direction.

Distraction- This interrupts the loop of negative thinking temporarily, because our brains can only perform a limited amount of functions at one time and emotions begin to calm down.

Relaxation techniques- Deep breathing (Relax, close your eyes, breathe in through your nose. Count 1, 2, 3. Exhale through your mouth 1,2,3. Repeat 5-10 times.) Massage therapy can also help you relax.

Mindfulness- Close your eyes, focus on the moment, quiet the words in your head by being still. Do not judge the moment as good or bad just stay still. Take note of your body sensations. Notice your breath  but don’t think about it. Stay with this for 5 minutes, but start off with 1 minute, then 2 and work up to 5 and then work to 10. Practice, Practice.

Get out of the house- walk with your baby in your neighborhood, do some shopping or a small errand a day.

Acceptance and acknowledge what is happening- There is power in acknowledging one’s powerlesness. Don’t fight the reality, try to surrender and validate yourself. Its the first step in recovery. ex. “I am feeling very anxious. I don’t really understand why this is happening, but I do know it is common and happens to other mothers.” Write this on a note to carry with you to read. ” I don’t like the way it feels, But I am doing everything I need to do to feel better.”  This will not last forever, I will get through this.




Delivery from Darkness

This article originally appeared in Mishpacha/Family First (Issue 425, January 14, 2015).

@Mishpacha Magazine 2015





Shloimy said, eyes bright.

“Hmm,” Leba mumbled, her head ensconced in a novel.

“You know why, Mommy? Maybe if I make you a party, then you’ll smile.”

An English teacher by profession, Leba Katz was as normal as they come. She was geshikt too: Despite giving birth to her sixth child just months earlier, her family always had fresh suppers, clean laundry, and sparkling floors. Which is why, despite repeated red flags, it never dawned on her that something was wrong.

“My son’s remark should have been a bulletin from Shamayim,” Leba reflects. “But depression was for weirdos. I was Leba Katz, the oldest of a well-known heimishe family from Boro Park.”

It took another alarming incident for Leba and her husband to realize they needed help.

At 11:30 p.m. one night, Leba began walking out the door, wearing only a robe and socks. “Where are you going?” her husband asked incredulously.

“I’m leaving,” she declared. “I’m just going… somewhere.”

“This is crazy,” he said. “We’re going to a doctor.”


Leba was suffering from postpartum depression (PPD), a form of maternal mental illness affecting at least one in eight — and as many as one in five — women across the world.

In the past, researchers referred to any post-birth mood disorder as “depression,” but today the medical world talks about postpartum reactions, acknowledging the range of conditions that can result from wildly fluctuating hormones: anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or a combination.

Not to be confused with baby blues, a short-lived bout of irritability affecting 90 percent of mothers for the first two weeks after birth, postpartum reactions generally do not go away without medical or therapeutic intervention — or an integration of both.

What’s more, a fast-growing body of research indicates that maternal mental illness does not always wait for delivery:

33 percent of women diagnosed with PPD developed the condition in their third trimester. Symptoms can also develop anytime in the baby’s first year of life — not just the first few months.

“With each child, the depression hit later and later,” Sari, a Baltimore mother of four relates. “With my youngest, I was fine until he was five months old. Then it hit.”

What causes maternal mental illness? A complex interplay of genes, stress, and hormones. “Hormones go up more than a hundredfold” during pregnancy, says Dr. Margaret Spinelli, director of the Maternal Mental Health Program in Columbia University, as quoted in the New York Times. After birth, hormones plummet, causing a crash that can “disrupt brain chemistry.”

Some primary risk factors are biological: Women whose moms had postpartum (PP) reactions are highly susceptible, and women who once experienced pregnancy-related depression have a 50 to 62 percent risk of recurrence.

Environmental factors also play a big role: the more stressors in a woman’s life — from financial strain to shalom bayis issues — the more likely she is to get a PP reaction. Experiencing a scare during pregnancy — even if it never materialized — can also trigger PPD.

Internal stressors impact a woman’s risk as well. A woman from a family of high achievers, for example, is at high risk. “She had a baby, she’s more limited, she can’t cope as well — but she’s expecting the same output of herself,” says Dr. Shula Wittenstein, a seasoned psychologist who works at Nitza, the Jerusalem Postpartum Support Network.

Perfectionists are more likely to fall into depression when their birth or after-birth experience does not go as planned, because they aim for “perfect” even in areas they can’t control. “Many women are brainwashed not to take an epidural, or told that a C-section will negatively affect the baby for life,” Dr. Wittenstein notes. “They’re also told nursing is a must. And they feel the powerful societal pressure to have many children in close succession, regardless of circumstance that warrant rabbinic instructions to the contrary.”

The result, asserts the psychologist, is that women aim for these goals even when they don’t have the capacity for them. And when they don’t succeed, they feel like failures.

Chaviva, who suffered from classic PPD, says, “I made myself insane trying to nurse, but it simply didn’t work. It took having three kids and consulting seven lactation consultants for me to accept that this is the way Hashem made me.”

Another internal stressor is the guilt felt when seeking a husband’s help. “The mother is drowning, but she doesn’t want to take away from her husband’s Torah,” describes Dr. Wittenstein. “She valiantly tries managing alone, pushing herself deeper into depression.”

Sari, an almost ten-year-veteran kollel wife, remembers feeling like a horrible Jew. “How could I ask him to stay home? I must have no chashivus haTorah, I’d think. Then I’d get angry at him for not offering to stay, thereby relieving me of the inner turmoil.”


Depression, the most common postpartum reaction, varies significantly in severity. Many affected women report a constant state of sadness and irritability.

Naturally upbeat and optimistic, Chaviva couldn’t find it in herself to smile. “Everything was wrong,” she remembers. “I couldn’t shake the anger.” Chaviva was unable to react to normal life challenges in a balanced way. When minor things went wrong, she would stew in a negative headspace — for days. “If my husband didn’t take out the garbage, he didn’t love me, my marriage was falling apart,” she says.

Other mothers paint a picture of perpetual “overwhelmedness.”

“Taking care of my kids just didn’t end. I felt I was being buried,” says Mindy. “My toddler whining, my baby crying — anything would set me off.” Mindy’s black feelings were exacerbated by a massive cloud of guilt: She had struggled with infertility for years. “G-d gave me these two amazing gifts after all these years — how could I not be happy?”

Rivka, who felt similarly submerged by routine responsibilities, says that in hindsight, she realizes her depression began in pregnancy. When she and her husband would read about their unborn baby’s weekly development, the soon-to-be-Tatty would get excited and emotional. Rivka, in contrast, would be completely detached.

“I kept telling myself: You can’t see the baby, that’s why you’re not feeling anything.” Months later, Rivka had no difficulty loving her sweet infant — she just couldn’t handle even life’s tiniest curveballs. “If I was in a rush and the baby had a dirty diaper, I’d lose it,” she recalls. “I couldn’t make decisions or problem-solve. I felt like I was about to crash — all day long.”

Most difficult to diagnose are cases of milder depression. Here, the woman functions outwardly — cooking and laundering, caring for the baby — but her inner world is in tatters.

“I put on a Broadway show. No one in the neighborhood could have known,” Leba says. “At home, though, I was in a fog. I wasn’t relating to my husband, my kids.”

For Shira, who held a high-powered finance job through several babies — and years of untreated depression — the farcical charade was the scariest part of it all. “I was having awful, awful thoughts: What’s the point? Why am I living? I knew I could do something really bad to myself, and no one would even know to prevent it.”

Years later, in a discussion about that bleak period, Shira’s husband remarked: “If you had stayed in bed for three days straight, I would have done something, gone for help. But you were totally functioning — I assumed you were just in a really bad mood.”


Other widespread postpartum reactions include anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“People don’t associate anxiety with birth, but it’s very, very common,” notes Dassy Gordon, coordinator at Nitza. She’s worked with mothers who were suddenly scared to leave the house, enter an elevator, or stay home alone. It’s a vicious cycle: If the anxiety deteriorates into a full-blown panic attack, the woman starts feeling anxiety about having another attack.

Anxiety often centers on the baby: Is she healthy? Happy? Developing right? In severe cases, a form of OCD may develop, where the mother constantly checks her baby’s breathing. Sometimes it manifests only in thought: The mother has to keep telling herself — again and again — “Everything will be okay.”

“Women suffering from OCD know it’s illogical,” Dassy says. “But they feel out of control. Their brains are being manipulated.”

Mindy, whose mother passed away suddenly when Mindy was in her eighth month of pregnancy, suffered from a mix of anxiety and PTSD. Coursing through every diaper change, bath, and bedtime was an underlying worry that she’d die too — leaving her children orphans.

“I was terrified. I was sure I would die, and who would take care of them?”

Birth is a particular trigger for PTSD: Studies suggest that the delivery process revives old stresses. What’s more, many women experience birth itself as a trauma, especially if there are complications.

“Birth can be very frightening,” Dassy observes. “It’s understandable that many mothers have to process this trauma.”

Using hormonal contraceptives after birth may exacerbate — or impersonate — maternal mental illness. While some gynecologists gloss over the side effects, many women experience radical mood swings and mistakenly assume they’re having a postpartum reaction. For others, hormonal treatment aggravates a preexisting condition, introducing new levels of despair.

“I had low-grade PPD for years,” shares Shira. “But it was only under the influence of hormonal treatment that I started having suicidal thoughts.” Shira found viable alternatives quickly.


Maternal mental illness of any kind has a profound effect on the family. “Akeret habayit is not just a cute catchphrase,” says Dassy Gordon. “It’s reality.”

In extreme cases, the household stops functioning: Kids wear dirty clothing to school, hygiene falls by the wayside, the supper table remains empty.

In milder cases, the cogs keep turning, but the inner damage is acute. A mother with a postpartum reaction cannot attend to her children’s emotional needs. Her marriage is severely compromised. And her relationship with her baby can be frighteningly flawed.

“It was the worst at night,” Chaviva remembers. “She’d wake up, again, and I thought I would hurt her.”

Sari remembers thinking, I don’t want to look at this baby.

While most women experiencing such intrusive thoughts never hurt their children, writes Pam Belluck in an extensive New York Times piece on the subject, some take extreme measures to protect their babies. One woman  slid down the stairs in a sitting position for months because she’d imagined throwing her baby downstairs, reported Wendy N. Davis, the executive director of Postpartum Support International.

Maternal stress may cripple a woman’s ability to bond with or care for her child, studies indicate. As a result, the child’s emotional and cognitive health may suffer.

Dassy Gordon says passivity is a common fallout. Baby is developing a relationship with this world. When he smiles or cries and doesn’t get reactions, he subconsciously thinks, “Why should I smile or cry? What effect do I have on my surroundings?”

“These babies can become apathetic, lying in the crib for hours each day,” Dassy says. “They may grow into children who recoil from emotional attachment, who can’t build healthy relationships.”

Older siblings can also sustain long-term effects. Struggling with typical new-child jealousy and insecurity, they need extra love and attention. Instead, they might receive copious amounts of screaming and yelling, or feel obliged to take on a protective role, propping up a fragile mother who cries endlessly.

But, Dr. Wittenstein stresses, children are very resilient. If a woman seeks help in a timely manner, her kids will likely make a full recovery.

Beyond the children, the marriage relationship is obviously undermined. Many men — especially first-time fathers — are unfamiliar with postpartum reactions, and their ignorance adds insult to an already difficult dynamic. “You have a young boy who married a beautiful, charming wife,” Dassy Gordon says. “Then she’s sick for nine months straight. When she gives birth, he’s thinking, ‘Finally, I’ll have my happy wife back!’ But the opposite happens.”

Some husbands brush it off as “normal moodiness.” Then the wife starts making demands, and he gets resentful. “He doesn’t understand that he needs to stretch beyond his normal schedule to help her get past this,” Dr. Wittenstein says.

Sari blamed her husband for everything. Unwilling to admit another factor was at play, she attributed her never-ending upset to him: “If only you helped more, I wouldn’t feel this way.” The anger predictably intensified during high-pressure times like Yamim Noraim or Pesach. One Succos, she remembers not speaking to him all Yom Tov.

Shira, whose depression went undetected for years, felt deeply betrayed: She was in a dark pit, and her husband wasn’t pulling her out of it. “Every woman wants her husband to take care of her,” she says. “But I didn’t realize what was happening myself, and my husband didn’t pick up the cues.”


Whether they suffer from depression, anxiety, or PTSD, frum women experiencing postpartum reactions face unique challenges. In a community that prides itself on large families and masterful juggling skills, mommies who are not managing feel enormous shame. And because of the emphasis placed on the beauty of motherhood (“Eim habanim semeichah!”), the woman who finds herself resenting — even hating — the role feels completely inadequate.

“We are raised with expectations about how happy we’ll be as mothers,” says Rebbetzin Michal Cohen, LCSW, a kallah teacher, social worker, and rebbetzin of Congregation Adas Yeshurun in Chicago. “Then you have a woman who can’t get out of bed, or has thoughts of hurting her baby. What is she supposed to think?”

“I lost my bren for Yiddishkeit,” Chaviva recalls. “Life was about keeping my head above water instead of becoming close to Hashem. I felt like a terrible Jew. I’d been so passionate in seminary, I had so many dreams… what happened?”

Chaviva’s pain was magnified by the fact that no one — not even her husband — validated her pain. When she reached out to mentors, they pooh-poohed her feelings, telling her it was normal to be overwhelmed after birth.

“That was the hardest part: not feeling heard,” Chaviva says.

When she finally went to the psychiatrist, who told her, “You have textbook PPD,” the relief was profound.

Denial of postpartum reactions is unfortunately not the exception. This flawed approach to mental health illness — resulting from community stigma or plain lack of awareness — can cause years of needless suffering, sometimes irrevocable emotional damage.

For Leba, it took six children and ten years of strained shalom bayis to seek help. Her refusal to face reality was part stigma, part ignorance. “My husband had a wife every other year,” she says sadly, adding that he was nothing short of a tzaddik for putting up with her. “I used to tell people: ‘It takes eight full months to recover from birth, you’re supposed to feel yucky!’ Looking back, I realize how abnormal that sounds.”

When Leba’s husband would show concern, wondering why she snapped so frequently at the kids, she’d say, “This is not medical, it’s avodas hamiddos.” When Leba finally made the trip to the doctor — at her husband’s insistence — she put up a tough fight.

“The doctor — who I’d already decided was a quack — recommended a mild antidepressant, and I was like, ‘Are you out of your mind? Do you know who you’re talking to? I’m Leba Katz, I’m normal!’ ”

“If your eyes weren’t working well, would you not get glasses?” the doctor matter-of-factly stated. “You’re missing some serotonin. That’s the whole story.”

The shame associated with therapy and mental health meds causes many frum women to delay treatment until the situation becomes untenable. “We have to be crawling on the floor, gasping our last breaths, in order to seek help,” rues Rebbetzin Cohen. “Why do we do that to ourselves? I wish therapy were one of the Aseres Hadibros: Thou shalt seek help.”

Another factor possibly aggravating PPD incidence in our community is the fact that there isn’t much emphasis on mothers taking care of themselves. Rebbetzin Cohen shares a telling incident: At the first session of a newly launched parenting class, she asked each woman to introduce herself. The questions included name, age, and range of children, and what each woman does to relax or unwind.

“Most of the women could not respond to the last question,” Rebbetzin Cohen reports. “I was floored. If you don’t outfit yourself with the oxygen mask first, your entire family will be comatose!”

Part of being a mother, says Rebbetzin Cohen, is making sure you are mentally and emotionally capable of caring for your kids. A 45-minute exercise routine is just as important — if not more so — than making a fresh supper.

“After all these years, I finally started treating myself to facials,” says Shira. “It sounds silly, but the emotional impact is real. Someone is taking care of you.”

Precisely when families are large, it’s critical that women stay on top of their emotional wellbeing. The larger the family, the more children are affected each time Mommy lapses into a postpartum reaction.


Treatment for postpartum reactions involves a multipronged approach of physical support, emotional support, therapy, and medication.

The first stop for a woman who suspects PPD is her obstetrician, who might refer her to a psychiatrist to evaluate if medication — usually in the form of antidepressants — is necessary. Next, the woman might call a postpartum support network like Nitza, who would refer her to a qualified therapist, hook her up with a support group, or arrange for a “phone friend” — based on her preferences.

Fearful of side effects to their unborn or nursing babies, many women are wary of taking medication (though research indicates the risk is minimal). But the damage of not taking it might be far more serious.

Mindy, whose psychiatrist prescribed a low-dose antidepressant, says the impact was immediate. “Within a week, I saw a difference,” she says. “I was reluctant to take it, but eventually I realized: You take Motrin for a headache, antibiotics for an infection, and antidepressants for mental illness.”

Leba’s results on medication were so positive that she’s continuing to take them, even though her baby is now pushing two. “I’ll get off of them one day. In the meantime, I have to be an effective mother.”

For Chaviva, landing on the right medication and dosage took time. “It’s not an instant happy pill,” she says. “But it did allow me to become grounded again. Life’s ups and downs kept coming, but the downs didn’t send me flying down a staircase anymore.”

Therapy is another critical treatment piece. It often comes in the form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a structured, present-oriented psychotherapy focused on solving current problems and recasting negative patterns; or of psychodynamic therapy, a more analytical approach that examines the client’s past to reveal the unconscious intent of his actions or choices,

Therapeutic healing is also essential. This refers to a woman sharing her experience: letting go of the guilt, shedding feelings of inferiority, and internalizing that postpartum reactions could happen to anyone.

These feelings are facilitated when mothers speak openly with each other, normalizing the condition.

“Instead of pretending you have the perfect life,” Dr. Wittenstein urges, “share your story. For every person who courageously shares, so many others are affected.”

Alternative healing methods like reflexology or massage may be beneficial. But, warns Esther Gross, author of You Are Not Alone and moderator of a Williamsburg-based support group, these alone cannot be effective. “It’s like using an ACE bandage for a broken foot,” she says. “I meet women who spend $30,000 a year on alternative healing. I tell them: ‘Stop sabotaging yourself. Go to a doctor.’ ”

The importance of a solid support system in treating PPD cannot be overemphasized: Research indicates that proper social support (regular phone calls, home visits, offers of help, empathy) can reduce symptoms by 50 percent.

Husbands especially must be on board, offering extensive technical help and showing support for the interventions. Chaviva’s husband’s rosh yeshivah unilaterally directed her husband to make himself available both physically and emotionally.

“It’s funny — now that I know he’s available, I don’t need his help as much,” she says. “Knowing he’s there physically is so important to me emotionally.”

In contrast, Sari — who’s endured PPD four times — has developed some coping mechanisms, but she still hasn’t gone for professional help. “I wish my husband would put his foot down and tell me: I’m going to watch the baby and you have to go,” she says. “He’s just not that type.”

But whether or not Husband “gets it,” women like Sari must realize they deserve to take care of themselves. The short-term babysitting technicalities pale in comparison to the potential fallout of non-treatment.

A narrow slice of PPD cases resolve spontaneously within three years. Most untreated cases deteriorate or become chronic. And because depression often occurs with comorbidities like anxiety or PTSD, the depression may diminish while the comorbidity remains.

“A 45-year-old woman may still be suffering from postpartum depression,” says Dr. Wittenstein. “With each year, the impact becomes progressively more severe.” This means that at first, PPD struck an otherwise healthy family. Now, after years of abstaining from treatment, the mother must deal with PPD along with a host of marital and parenting issues that developed as a result.

What’s more, Dr. Wittenstein tells mothers, even if the condition fades away, “Two to three years is a long time to live like this. For you and your family.”


Women who endured postpartum reactions are generally determined to use every means at their disposal to avoid a repeat experience.

“Next baby, I will not leave the hospital before going on medication,” Mindy says. “I will pursue therapy before birth, while I’m pregnant.”

“I will get more help,” Chaviva says resolutely. “No one else can mother my kids, but lots of people can wash dishes, fold laundry, and cook supper.”

“I’m open to bottle-feeding,” Rivka says, recalling the physical pain that plunged her further into depression. “I wanted to nurse so badly, but I’d do anything — anything — to avoid this again.”

On a communal level, reducing the rate and severity of postpartum reactions requires greater awareness and open discussion. Dr. Wittenstein feels strongly that childbirth education classes should include more emphasis on “not-dream births” and associated feelings of inadequacy and shock. Expectant mothers must learn more about PPD and its red flags, in a clear, non-alarming way.

“I assumed every woman with PPD was suicidal,” says Rivka, who suffered from milder depression. “If I’d only known to get help, I could have avoided two years of misery.”

Husbands must be especially prepared, since they are often the only ones in a position to help. Dr. Wittenstein’s dream is for every rosh kollel or rebbi to check in with new fathers every few weeks after birth, asking, “Is your wife getting enough sleep? Is she back to herself? Is there anything you’re concerned about?” Rabbanim should be supportive, lightening the pressure of husbands who may need to spend more time at home. Neighborly nurturing after birth is far-reaching. Besides meals and babysitting, women should try to tune in to the emotional needs of kimpeturin mothers. “Instead of only asking, ‘How are you managing?’ try asking, ‘How are you feeling? Are you happy with the baby?’ ” suggests Dassy Gordon.

Most of all, mothers must validate, validate, validate, scratching out the stigma with every conversation — so that women like Sari feel comfortable seeking help. “Even after experiencing depression many times, it’s so hard to face it,” says Sari. “I’m still convincing myself: If I ignore it, it will go away.”

Meanwhile, women like Leba — who have found relief through medication and support — are continually stunned at how joyful and manageable motherhood can be.

“I am beyond crazy about my baby,” Leba says. “He’s 24 months; I’m still nursing him; I’m hopelessly attached. I feel like he’s my first kid.”



A little-known cousin of maternal mental illness, paternal postnatal depression (PPND) affects as many as 14 percent of fathers in the US. Experts dub it the “underscreened, underdiagnosed, and undertreated condition,” contending that real incidence is probably much higher, since men are less likely to report symptoms.

Depression in fathers presents differently than in their female counterparts: while men exhibit more traditional symptoms like fatigue, loss of appetite, or low motivation, they are less inclined to cry or show sadness.

Which men are vulnerable? Researchers have found a strong link between maternal depression and PPND, likely due to poor marital satisfaction. Some studies even propose that maternal depression causes PPND. But regardless of the mother’s condition, first-time fathers, unemployed fathers, and fathers of kids with special needs are associated with the highest rates of PPND.

And while the effects of PPND are milder than those of maternal depression, normal child development can still be hampered. Research indicates that children whose parents are not depressed have a 6 percent rate of emotional or behavioral problems. In homes where only the father was depressed, 11 percent of children will develop problems; where only the mother had symptoms, the rate among children was 19 percent.

Alarmingly, a child with two depressed parents has a 1 in 4 chance of having emotional or behavioral problems later in life. So both mothers and fathers should be on the lookout for the telltale signs of depression — and deal with them swiftly.