Post-natal depression and Baby Blues
The terms ‘Post-natal depression’ and ‘Baby Blues’ are often used interchangeably, however they are rather different. Post-natal depression effects about one in every 7 new mums and can last for months, whereas the baby blues effects as many as 4 in every 5 new mums and can last for about a week after giving birth.
Many new mums feel like they are on cloud nine after giving birth to their bundle of joy. You are home from the hospital, you have your friends and family around you, fawning over you and your little one. However some mums soon start to feel tearful, irritable, and exhausted.
This is the baby blues.
The baby blues are completely natural and nothing to worry about. They are the result of hormonal changes, tiredness, and sudden overwhelming feelings of responsibility for your little one. Your pregnancy hormones are on their way out, while your breast milk is on its way in, so basically your body doesn’t know which way is up! At this juncture, it is completely normal to burst into tears when you can’t find your slipper! It is okay!
Other symptoms of baby blues include snapping at loved ones (probably through sheer tiredness), not being able to get into a sleep routine, worrying 24/7 about your perfectly healthy baby, and experiencing symptoms of baby brain (click here to read more).
Post-natal depression, on the other hand, is a form of clinical depression, and professional help is recommended. In fact, the only difference between depression and post-natal depression is the experience of childbirth.
Unfortunately, since your body and mind are going through tremendous changes due to post-pregnancy hormones and so on, a change in mental health is more likely to go unnoticed for some time.
How common is Post-Natal Depression?
Post-natal depression (PND) is the most common perinatal mental health disorder that women experience in their first year post-birth. It usually comes on within 6 weeks of giving birth and normally dissipates within a few months. However about 30% of new mums with PND find themselves still suffering with symptoms after one year.
Rates of PND might even be higher than I have reported here and this is because it is often unreported. As I mentioned earlier, cases of post-natal depression can go unnoticed in the midst of your post-pregnancy hormonal changes. Additionally, many new mums are fearful of seeking professional help because of the stigma associated with mental health and because of a concern that social services will then be called.
Let me assure you here and now that your GP and health visitor will do everything in their power to keep you and your baby together. No one in the healthcare industry would jump to the conclusion that you aren’t fit to care for your child because of a diagnosis of post-natal depression.
Even in cases of post-natal psychosis (which effects about 1 in every 1000 mums), where mum will likely be hospitalised, every effort is still made to keep mum and baby together, with many specialist units providing accommodations for mum and baby to be hospitalised together.
The last thing that anyone wants is to split up families.
How do I know if I have Post-Natal Depression?
Symptoms of PND are similar to symptoms of clinical depression. They include the following:
Feeling down and teary
An inability to concentrate
Low sex drive
An inability to experience happiness
Finding it difficult to leave the house
Finding it difficult to bond with your baby
According to Dr. Liz McDonald from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, a key sign of post-natal depression is feeling as if you are not doing a good enough job.
Post-natal depression can be difficult to recognise as many people associate a lot of these symptoms with the normal process of adjusting to life with a baby. Being tearful, having difficulty sleeping, and feeling unable to concentrate could all be attributed to simply being a new mum.
However, if you have any concerns at all that it might be something more, it is always worth talking to your GP or health visitor.
How could Post-Natal Depression effect your new family?
Post-natal depression can put a strain on your relationship with your partner and with your baby.
If you suffer from PND, you may feel as if you emotionally disconnected from your baby, or that you are unable to work out what your little one feels or needs. This may lead to feelings of guilt and shame, which can further perpetuate the symptoms of post-natal depression.
Your relationship with your partner may be effected, as they may feel unable to connect with you, unable to help you, and unable to understand what you are going through. Many new dads feel pushed to the side by their partner and even by their baby in the first few weeks or months. Furthermore, partners of mums with PND are more likely to suffer from depression themselves.
It is important to communicate with your partner, your extended family, and your friends in order to let them know what is going on and how they can help you. Sometimes just talking to a loved one can help as it alleviates the feeling of isolation that many people with PND experience.
What might contribute to Post-Natal Depression?
Unfortunately, there is not a definitive single cause of post-natal depression. If there was, I’m sure someone would have invented a pill to tackle it. However there are some factors that are known to contribute to it.
This short list is not exhaustive, but it gives us an idea of things to look out for, such as;
Having ongoing mental health problems, or having had mental health conditions in the past
A family history of post-natal depression
Having had a traumatic birth experience
Living in a negative and/or violent social or economic environment
Being a refugee or asylum seeker
A history of childhood or adulthood abuse
Poor social support.
What many of these risk factors have in common is that they increase the stress levels in the individual and also act to make the individual feel isolated.
How can you help yourself?
There are some ways that you can support yourself throughout your pregnancy and post-birth in order to reduce your risk of PND and to ensure that you have the support network to cope with PND should it develop.
Developing and maintaining a support network of friends, family, and other new mums. It is good to do this throughout your pregnancy, as it can be difficult to manage developing a support network and adjusting to life as a mummy at the same time.
Accepting offers of help. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you have to do it all! But in reality, it is actually beneficial to try to do less than normal and to conserve your energy. So, if you have someone offering to do your laundry, cook your meals, or bring your shopping over, I urge you to accept the help!
Maintain or develop a regular and sustainable exercise regime. This can be anything from jumping straight back into the gym, to rejoining your netball team, to going for a walk with your baby regularly. It is also good to eat healthily in order to maintain your strength.
Something that is important for anyone attempting to ward off any kind of depression is to ensure that you shower and get dressed every single day. Even if the furthest that you are going is the back garden and even if you get dressed into leggings and a hoodie – as long as you are out of your pyjamas! It seems simple enough, but if you are in the throws of depression, hopping in the shower can seem like an impossible task.
Sign up for mum and baby classes such as baby massage, and join local groups such as NCT. This is a great way to connect with other new mums and with professionals who work with new mums frequently.
Don’t stop taking antidepressants without the advice and support of a medical professional. It is important to discuss the risks and benefits of taking anti-depressants through pregnancy and breast feeding with your doctor. 7 out of 10 women who stop taking their antidepressants during their pregnancy relapse.
What kind of help is available?
Do not fear, there is plenty of help available! If working through the ‘self-help’ suggestions above seems daunting or just doesn’t seem to help you, there are many other options that you can try.
As I mentioned before, if you have any concerns at all, your first point of contact is likely to be your GP or your health visitor. They will be able to either suggest medication (???) or refer you to the relevant healthcare professional.
Talking to other mums, joining groups or classes with other new mums, or even going to groups that are specifically designed for ladies with PND can be incredibly helpful. As I said, just sharing what you are going through and hearing from others can be very healing.
Another option to consider is counselling. Seeing a professional counsellor can give you the time and space to confidentially talk through what you are experiencing and begin to make more sense of it. Post-natal depression can really steal the joy from the experience of motherhood, and therefore, the sooner you can get help, the more you can enjoy the experience of raising your baby.
As always, if you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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