What is Postnatal Depression? How does this differ from the “Baby Blues”?
The arrival of a new baby is one of life’s happiest moments, yet it can also be associated with anxiety, exhaustion and stress. Almost half of new mothers can go through a period of feeling very emotional and tearful after the arrival of a child (the ‘baby blues’) and an estimated one in ten can go on to develop more intense and long term symptoms, known as Postnatal depression (PND). These symptoms usually develop in the first four to six weeks after giving birth and can result in overwhelming feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness.
Postnatal depression is caused by a variety of factors, including and not isolated to hormonal changes, a lack of support and previous mental health issues. It is also important to remember that although postnatal depression is more common in women, men can also be affected. The birth of a new baby can be stressful for both parents and some fathers may feel unable to cope, and may find it difficult to adjust to the big changes made by a new baby.
For both parents it is important to understand that having postnatal depression does not mean you do not love and care for your baby or that you are a ‘bad parent’. While it is very distressing, there are many treatments available and as long as postnatal depression is recognised and treated it can be a temporary condition that you can recover from.
What are the signs and symptoms of Postnatal Depression
Postnatal depression can affect individuals in many different ways. The symptoms can range from mild to severe and can last from a few months to in severe cases well over a year. Here are some of the different experiences of PND:
- A low mood that tends to be worse in the morning
- Lack of interest in yourself or your baby
- Lack of enjoyment, energy and motivation
- Feelings of irritability
- Feeling hopeless, guilty or inadequate
- Poor concentration and the inability to make decisions
- Feeling tearful and miserable
- Disturbed sleeping patterns – being unable to sleep despite tired and waking early
- Anxiety, which may lead to panic attacks
- Appetite changes – comfort eating or lack of appetite
- Avoiding people and social situations
- Loss of libido
- In extreme circumstances a new mother may experience thoughts of suicide or harming yourself or your baby, it is extremely rare that these will be acted out in reality although accessing help is vital. In these extreme cases psychosis may be present, which is another indicator to seek immediate help.
What Treatments are available for Postnatal Depression?
If you think you have postnatal depression you should see your GP, midwife or health visitor as quickly as possible so that an effective treatment plan can be put into place. While it is important to remember that no treatment option provides an instant cure, with time and patience you can recover. The common treatments available for postnatal depression are detailed below, and can be used together or in isolation:
1. Help from others: The support and understanding from friends and family is fundamental to alleviating the symptoms of postnatal depression. Talking to those close to you about how you feel may help to share the problem, enabling you to rest and alleviate anxiety. Bottling everything up can make the symptoms worse and can cause tension, particularly with your partner. You may also find it useful to talk to other new mothers and fathers and find reassurance that all new parents share similar anxieties and frustrations.
2. Medication: The most common type of medication prescribed to treat moderate or severe cases of postnatal depression are antidepressants. They work by focusing on the mood chemicals in the brain and as such can ease symptoms such as low mood, appetite changes, poor sleep and concentration. Antidepressants can take between two to four weeks to start working and so it is important to keep taking them even if you do not see an improvement straight away. Finally, many new mothers are worried about the effects of taking antidepressants on their ability to breastfeed, but many antidepressants do not cross into the breast milk and this will be taken into account by your GP.
3. Talking Therapy: Talking about your feelings can be helpful, however depressed you are. Sometimes revealing your feelings to your friends and family can, however, be hard and so talking to a trained counsellor can be easier. There are many different forms of therapy and so it is worth exploring the options to see which is best for you. Counselling, for example, can help explore problems to help reflect on things and make clear decisions. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help sufferers of postnatal depression to understand problems and enable positive changes in the way they think, feel and behave. Interpersonal therapy can help identify any problems within relationships, family and others to see how this relates to PND. Other types of therapy such as Psychodynamic counselling may also be used to explore and treat PND.
4. Self Help: This is something every new mother can do at home to help cope with the effects of postnatal depression. Eating healthy, getting regular exercise and avoiding alcohol and drugs will provide both your body and mind with the resources to help you manage your symptoms, as well as the daily challenges of a new baby. Contacting local support groups and national help-lines can also be a great way of gaining new information, advice and support.
Finally, try to remain positive. postnatal depression is very common and you are not to blame. There are plenty of options available to you and with time you can come to enjoy you new roles as parents without the cloud of depression.