Postnatal depression is common. It can happen to any mother after having a baby, but it is more common if a woman has a previous history of depression. About one in eight women suffer from postnatal depression and many women have had some depressive symptoms during pregnancy.
The suffering caused by postnatal depression is profound and frequently underestimated. Sufferers are robbed of many of the joys that are so commonly written about and portrayed by the media. Women who have always been seen as competent and responsible, leading fulfilling lives, unexpectedly find their lives shaken by this condition that can creep in gradually or strike suddenly without warning.
The negative effects of postnatal depression are often made worse by a delay in diagnosis and treatment. Many women are reluctant to admit to feeling down, as they fear they may be judged ‘bad’ or unfit to care for their baby. Many do not know what is wrong with them or that help is available.
Being a new mother means you can’t do everything you did before the birth. You need to take time to recover from the pregnancy and the birth and adjust to being a mother. Take every chance you get to rest and build up reserves of energy. Your maternity leave is there for your benefit and to benefit the relationship between you and your baby. Involve your partner and people you trust to help with the baby and housework.
Try also to:
- Have regular meals; choose nutritious foods that require little cooking. Avoid high sugar snacks and meals, as they tend to increase irritability and reduce energy.
- Get some physical exercise, as it is a great stress buster and will make you feel better.
- Be open about your feelings and worries with someone that you trust. This will help them understand what you need. It is not your fault if you are having a hard time. Equally it is most likely not your partner’s fault.
- Organise a baby sitter and have a ‘date’ every couple of weeks to discuss life and its new challenges.
- Make a plan to reduce stressors and take time to relax with family and friends.
Signs of postnatal depression
The signs of postnatal depression are very varied and include:
- feeling irritable, moody and angry;
- feeling low and unhappy, not really enjoying the baby;
- feeling sad and lonely even with people around;
- crying for no reason;
- feeling inadequate and unable to cope;
- feeling out of control and as if you are losing your mind;
- feeling anxious and panicky;
- worrying about things you would normally take for granted;
- not sleeping well, difficulty getting to sleep and waking early;
- feeling exhausted and lacking in energy; and
- having difficulty in getting motivated to do anything – some days hardly able to get dressed.
It can also be a sign of postnatal depression if you are over-involved with the baby and don’t allow anyone else to help. This can lead to exhaustion and make the condition worse. A small group of women feel they cannot do anything right for the baby and will ask their partner or family friend to care for the baby.
Some mothers with postnatal depression will be reluctant to leave the house to meet friends or take ‘time out’. They may use excuses like “what if the baby needed me” or “I’m too tired”.
Other signs of postnatal depression include:
- being over-involved in keeping the house tidy or being too exhausted to do any housework;
- having poor concentration – unable to focus on what people are saying, often forgetting things and finding it difficult to make decisions;
- having a disturbed appetite – some mothers forget to eat and others comfort eat or a combination of both;
- lacking sexual desire – some mothers think “what did I see in him” and another time will think that their partner will meet someone else and leave them;
- feeling guilty about many things, for things said and things not said; and
- thinking about running away or harming themselves – “the family would be better off without me”.
Women who have postnatal depression respond well to treatment. Women who are diagnosed and treated early recover faster than those treated later. The key to prevention and early recovery is extra support and practical help. If you feel that all is not ‘right’ acknowledge this and talk to someone you trust – a friend, your midwife, your public health nurse or your GP. A bad day is normal, a bad week or two is not.
The length of time that mothers need to be on medication varies from six months upwards. Anti-depressants take at least two weeks to begin to work. If you stop taking medication before six months there is a bigger risk of the depression coming back.
Support from family and friends is also crucial to recovering from postnatal depression and therefore should be part of your care plan. Ask for their help and support. Local parenting groups and support groups often help by offering support and understanding. With help all postnatal depression can be over come. You will enjoy life with your new baby and family again.
For further information on postnatal depression, please view the two HSE publications “Chasing the blues away” and “Postnatal Depression- A guide for mothers, family and friends”