Having a baby floods your emotions with love and joy, but what if they are replaced by feelings of despair, loneliness and guilt? And what if that glowing pride and love for your newborn, has become Post-natal depression?
Post-natal depression or baby blues?
Post-natal depression, (often referred to as post-partum depression or PND), is a condition that affects new mums after they’ve given birth. It’s not to be confused with the baby blues, which is really common and characterised by feeling sad and weepy 2-3 days after giving birth. The baby blues usually lasts for two weeks, whilst PND lasts a lot longer and is harder to shift. The baby blues are thought to be down to the huge changes in oestrogen and progesterone levels which drop dramatically post-birth. Also the overwhelming task of caring for a newborn, breastfeeding and sleepless nights that come with caring for a new baby.
The baby blues fade after a couple of weeks; but post-natal depression is much more of a persistent feeling that is really hard to shake.
Symptoms of post-natal depression
Typical symptoms of postnatal depression include overwhelming feelings of sadness, difficulty sleeping, feeling irritable and low energy with no enthusiasm to ‘rouse’ yourself off the sofa and look after your baby. New mum Elle, who suffered from postnatal depression, explains her symptoms:
“I kept watching my friends with their new babies kiss, cuddle and gaze adoringly at them, but when I looked at my new baby Charlie, I felt nothing,” she says. “This then turned into guilt because I couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to pick Charlie up and blamed myself for being a terrible mother.”
Post-natal depression and body changes
New mums experience lots of body changes in the first few weeks after birth as their bodies shift from carrying a baby to caring for a newborn. Difficulty sleeping is common with any new parents, as you deal with your baby’s needs. But the sleeplessness that comes with post-natal depression is different. It’s more a restlessness and inability to fall asleep as well as feeling sleepy during the day. You may also lose your appetite or not feel bothered about eating.
Bonding with your baby
Just as new mum Elle highlighted, a symptom of post-natal depression is finding it difficult to bond with your baby or not feeling that gush of love when you look at him/her. New mum Anna says she constantly felt she couldn’t look after her baby: “I felt like I was the only one who didn’t know what I was doing, and that my baby would suffer because I was getting it all wrong.”
Feeling like you can’t be bothered
A typical symptom of post-natal depression is feeling you can’t be bothered to do anything, whether it’s getting up to change your baby’s nappy, changing the channel on the TV or heading to the local park to meet friends. You’ll likely feel agitated at having to do anything but lie on the sofa.
Negative thoughts and postnatal depression
Feeling low and anxious are common symptoms of post-natal depression, as well as having extremely negative thoughts. These can be thoughts about how you perceive yourself as a mother, negative feelings about your body, loss of interest in sex and generally wanting to avoid people. Some women get so low they think about self-harming or suicidal thoughts or even harming their babies – although experts say most women never act on these thoughts.
Why do some women suffer from post-natal depression?
Experts aren’t really sure why some women suffer from PND and some don’t, but there are a few factors that make it more likely to appear. The first is if you have a history of mental illness before you were pregnant or during pregnancy. This isn’t a hard and fast rule – lots of women who had depression pre-pregnancy don’t suffer from PND at all. It’s good to tell your midwife about your mental health so your health team can be on the look-out for any symptoms. Other factors that may make PND more likely are if you are a mum to twins, you’ve gone through a very stressful time before giving birth (losing a parent for example) or you don’t have much support from your partner.
If my mum suffered am I more likely to have post-natal depression?
“I was all prepared to suffer from post-natal depression because my mum had it with me and talked about it during my pregnancy, but I didn’t get it at all,” explains new mum Lucy. Lucy’s is correct to be concerned, but is a good example of history NOT repeating itself. Conversely, if your mum didn’t have it, it doesn’t mean you won’t. Postnatal depression affects 1 in every 10 women in the UK, so whilst common, women can experience a range of mild effects or more severe.
When does Post-natal depression happen?
Post-natal depression can happen any time in the first year after you’ve given birth; but is most likely to appear one to two months after birth. A third of women with PND actually experience symptoms during pregnancy and this is called pre-natal depression.
What to do if you think you have PND
Admitting to yourself you are struggling when you first have a baby is one of the hardest aspects of post-natal depression. It doesn’t help that we are bombarded with images on social media of perfect celebrities with seemingly perfect babies. Or that women seem so reluctant to admit they are finding motherhood tough. Your first step is to tell someone you are struggling. This can be your mum, your sister or a close friend. If you find it hard to tell someone you know, try telling your midwife, health visitor or GP. Their job is to look after you and won’t just dismiss your worries by brushing them off as tiredness. Your midwife and health visitor will be particularly trained to spot PND and will have a wealth of support and advice to get your through.
What if you think your friend has post-natal depression?
If someone you know has any of the symptoms mentioned above, seems anxious, in a consistently low mood, or is finding it hard to bond with her baby it may well be PND. You could try asking her if she thinks she may have post-natal depression. Often women don’t think they do and blame themselves for being bad mums. Remind your friend it’s really common and countless celebrities such as Adele and Stacey Soloman, have experienced it. Post-natal depression is a really isolating illness, where so many women feel alone and unsupported.
Can you talk to your friend’s partner or family in a sensitive way to highlight she needs more support? Try to plan your visit for when the health visitor or midwife is visiting and quietly mention your concern. Offering to watch their baby whilst your friend does something for herself like getting a haircut or attending a yoga class can help her feel back to her old self again. Reassure your friend that above all, she is not a bad mother and that with help, she will get better.
Your midwife or health visitor may refer you to a GP depending on the severity of your post-natal depression. There are a few treatment options your GP may suggest:
Self-help treatment may be suggested by your GP and is a series of steps you can take to improve your mental health. This involves building a support network around you. It can range from finding PND support groups in your area, going to local mother and baby groups to meet with other mums and contacting specialist organisations that deal with post-natal depression such as PaNDAS.
Other ways to help yourself, can be finding a way to carve time into your day which is just for you. Taking care of yourself is really important when you have a new baby and post-natal depression or not, you can often feel your identity has been lost now you are a mum. Try making up a list of things you’ll try to do. For example, pledge to yourself that you’ll get up, shower and get dressed every morning even if your baby has kept you awake; you won’t spend the day in your dressing gown.
“I suggested to my husband that I needed one evening a week off from looking after my baby,” says Louise, mum to Skye, 18 months. “He feeds Skye, bathes her and does the bedtime routine whilst I have a long bath and read a book – it’s really improved my mental health and my relationship with Skye.”
Post-natal Depression Therapies
If your PND is more severe, your GP may suggest talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps to change the way you think and behave by breaking overwhelming problems down into smaller parts. Interpersonal therapy (IBT), can also help and focuses on you and your relationships with other people. Your GP can refer you to a therapist; waiting lists are normally long (but are reported to be well worth the wait). You can refer yourself here.
If you can afford it, you can pay for a private session which is usually between £40 – £100 per session. Click here to find a list of accredited CBT therapists.
Anti-depressants for post-natal depression
Sometimes your GP will advise you to start a treatment of anti-depressants, which can help to ease your symptoms. Talk to your GP about side effects and withdrawal symptoms once you stop taking them.
Organisations that can help with post-natal depression:
APNI – Association for Post-natal Illness. Get in touch with this PND helpline, chat with someone who will give you advice or just hear you talk – 0207 386 0868
PaNDAS – PND awareness and support and a free helpline for anyone who needs to talk – 0808 1961 776
Family Action – Lots of services and advice for families including adult mental health and wellbeing.
Mind – mental health charity providing advice and support for parents going through postnatal depression – 0300 123 3393
Above all, remind yourself these things:
- You are not a bad mum, plenty of women experience postnatal depression and make a full recovery.
- You are not alone – there are so many organisations, family members and support groups who all want to help you.
- No-one is perfect – the mum who seems to be smashing motherhood, may go home and feel lonely and sad. Be on the lookout for any of your friends who may need your help once a baby arrives.