Post Natal Depression
What is post-natal depression?
Having a baby is a life-changing experience that is often underestimated by many. Fun-filled late nights bopping around to the Macarena with mojito in hand are swapped for pampers, posseting and parenthood! Postnatal depression, PND for short, is a type of depression that many parents experience after having a baby. This is a common problem, affecting more than 1 in every 10 women within a year of giving birth as well as 1 in 10 new fathers.
The symptoms for PND are like those for depression which include low mood lasting at least two weeks. Sometimes there is an obvious reason for PND, but not always. You may feel distressed, or guilty for feeling like this however PND can happen to anyone and it is never your fault.
It’s never too late to seek help and it is important to do so as soon as possible. Mild PND can be helped by increased support from family and friends. If you are more unwell, you will need help from your GP and health visitor/community nurse. If your PND is severe, you may need care and treatment from a mental health service. Regardless of severity however, with the right support, most women make a full recovery.
What are the symptoms of postnatal depression?
Many women feel a bit down, tearful or anxious in the first week after giving birth. This is often referred to as the “baby blues” and is so common that it is considered normal. The “baby blues” do not last for more than two weeks after the birth of your baby. If your symptoms last longer or start later, there is a possibility you could have postnatal depression.
Signs that you or someone you know might be depressed include:
-A persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
-Lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the wider world
-Lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
-Difficulty bonding with your baby
-Loss of appetite or an increased appetite (comfort eating)
-Feelings of guilt, hopelessness and self-blame
-Thinking about suicide of self-harm
PND can be hard to recognise as it develops gradually. Some parents may avoid speaking to family/friends about how they are feeling as they may worry they will be judged for not coping.
Signs for partners, family and friends to look out for include:
-Frequently crying for no obvious reason
-Having difficulty bonding with their baby, looking after them only as a duty and not wanting to play with them
-Withdrawing from contact with other people
-Speaking negatively all the time and claiming that they’re hopeless
-Neglecting themselves, such as not washing or changing their clothes
-Losing their sense of humour
-Constantly worrying that something is wrong with their baby, regardless of reassurance
If you think someone you know is depressed, encourage them to talk about their feelings to you, a friend, their GP or their health visitor.
What causes postnatal depression?
The exact cause of postnatal depression isn’t completely clear but we do know of certain factors that increase the risk of developing PND:
-A history of mental health problems, particularly depression, earlier in life
-A history of mental health problems during pregnancy
-Having no close family or friends to support you
-A poor relationship with your partner
-Recent stressful life events, such as a bereavement
-Experiencing the “baby blues”
Even if you don’t have any of the symptoms listed, having a baby is a significant life-changing event that can sometimes trigger depression. It often takes time to adapt to becoming a new parent as looking after a small baby can be stressful and exhausting however, it is essential to look after yourself also!
Getting help for postnatal depression
Post-natal depression can affect your day-to-day life and your relationships with your baby, family and friends. If you think you may be depressed, talk to a GP or health visitor as soon as possible so you can access the help and support you need. Don’t struggle on alone and hope the problem will go away because if can often continue for months or years if not addressed.
-A range of help and support is available, these included self-help (see below for further information), talking therapies (e.g. CBT) and medication (such as anti-depressants).
-It’s not your fault you’re depressed – it can happen to anyone
-Being depressed doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent
-It doesn’t mean you’re going mad
-Your baby won’t be taken away from you – babies are only taken into care in very exceptional circumstances
Some useful self help tips:
-Be open and talk to your partner, friends and family – try to help them understand how you are feeling and what they can do to support you
-Don’t try to be a “supermum” – accept help from others when it’s offered and ask for help looking after the baby and do tasks such as housework, cooking and shopping
-Make time for yourself – try to do activities that you find relaxing and enjoyable, such as going for a walk, listening to music, reading a book or having a warm bath
-Rest when you can – although it can be difficult when you’re looking after a baby, try to sleep whenever you get the chance and ask your partner to help with the night-time work
-Exercise regularly – this has been shown to help boost mood in people with mild depression
-Eat regular, healthy meals and don’t go for long periods without eating
-Don’t drink alcohol or take drugs, as this can make you feel worse
National Support Groups:
Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support (PANDAS) – helpline on 0843 28 98 401 (9am to 8pm, Monday to Sunday)
National Childbirth Trust (NCT) – helpline on 0300 330 0700 (8am to Midnight, Monday to Sunday)
You can also search for local support groups and find details of national telephone or email support lines on the Maternal Mental Health Alliance website.
If you think you have post-natal depression or worried someone you know might have PND, encourage them to contact their GP…..we are here to help!
Dr Vanessa Ni Churrain
Private GP, Fulham