Having a baby is usually a positive experience for parents. Society expects us to feel happy and fulfilled as we welcome a new life into our world, yet parents have a major readjustment to deal with, including a loss of independence, changes in financial status and security and sometimes changes in relationships with those in different circumstances.
The Baby Blues
Approximately one in two mothers experience baby blues, which typically occurs between three to five days after the birth. A mother may feel weepy, irritable and have a low mood. These feelings are very common and usually subside after a week or so. If the feelings don’t go away or get worse it’s important to speak with your health visitor or GP about how you are feeling.
Postnatal Depression and Anxiety
Postnatal depression (PND) is a recognised and treatable illness which affects approximately one in five new mothers. Approximately one in ten fathers experience paternal depression after the birth of their baby.
Approximately two thirds of mothers who experience PND state they had some symptoms during their pregnancy. The illness can affect anyone irrespective of background and circumstances and although it may present straight after the birth it sometimes can go unrecognised and undiagnosed for weeks or months after. Many first time parents may think it’s usual to feel the way they do or are ashamed of their feelings, which may hinder them from seeking help. I still hear mothers saying they have a fear of their baby being taken away from them if they tell a health professional how they are feeling. This is not the case - health professionals are here to help families experiencing PND and offer them support. It is so important to talk to someone about how you are feeling so you can get the support you need.
Postnatal depression (PND) is a recognised and treatable illness which affects approximately one in five new mothers.
"Health professionals are here to help families experiencing PND and offer them support. It is so important to talk to someone about how you are feeling so you can get the support you need."
The most common symptoms of PND are low mood, feelings of anxiety, the inability to enjoy or look forward to things, lack of motivation and extreme tiredness. Many think a sign of PND is being unable to feel a bond with your baby. This feeling of lack of attachment may affect some mothers, however there are many mothers that have PND that do not have attachment issues with their baby.
Some mothers may not actually feel depressed but feel far more anxious or agitated, so may not recognise this as PND. They may not know what they are feeling anxious about and may experience panic attacks due to the anxiety.
Other mothers may feel feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility of having a baby and may become anxious about the baby’s health and/ or their own health. These feelings can be very frightening and it is important to remember there is a huge range of feelings and symptoms with PND. This is another reason to discuss your feelings with a health professional.
I would always initially advise speaking to your GP and health visitor about how you are feeling. Your GP may refer you for counselling or a referral the perinatal team for support. They may also suggest anti depressants, which can be hugely beneficial to recovery and some can be taken if you are breastfeeding. They may be able to signpost you to a support group to be with other mothers who are feeling similar to yourself. This really helps with normalising mothers’ feelings and reducing the sense of isolation that goes with experiencing PND. There is no shame in having this illness, although some mothers do feel this and to be with others who understand your feelings can really help recovery.
“Having postnatal depression can be frightening and distressing. It's important to remember that with the right support and/or treatment you will recover and enjoy life again”
It's important to remember that with the right support and/or treatment you will recover and enjoy life again.
Having postnatal depression can be frightening and distressing. Sometimes you may feel like you are going mad and may never feel like the person you were before. It’s important to remember that with the right support and/or treatment you will recover and enjoy life again.
If possible, try to rest when you can as tiredness may make your symptoms worse. Ask for help from family and friends if you can. Try to eat small regular meals especially if your appetite is poor. This helps to keep the blood sugar level constant which can help ease the anxiety and low mood.
Your confidence will be lowered when anxious and depressed and sometimes can take a while to return. Remember, it is tough being a new parent so give yourself credit for even small things that you achieve.
If feeling up to it, try to take some exercise. This doesn’t need to be vigorous - a walk in the fresh air can help to ease irritability and tension
Try to confide in someone you feel comfortable with and won’t pass opinion nor judge you. You may find it helps to write your feelings down and keep track of how you’re feeling, so you can see how you’re recovering.
Here are some before and after statements from mothers I have supported through their recovery:
“I didn’t want to go out and see people, I’m usually such a positive person, I felt as if I’d had a personality change: The anti depressants that I took really helped me.”
“I felt so alone, like no one could really understand how I was feeling. It was so good to talk to someone else that had been through it, that really helped me realise that I would get better.”
“I felt that I’d made a big mistake in having a baby: I love my daughter to pieces now and never thought I would feel like this when I had PND.”
Postnatal depression and anxiety can be a very debilitating and frightening illness which parents need to seek support for. The following are some useful contacts:
The Association for Postnatal Illness
www.apni.org 0207 386 0868
The Cedar House Support Group ‘embracing support for postnatal depression’
Liz Wise, specialist PND Counsellor
MIND, maternal mental health