Post-natal depression is more common than you might think. It affects 1 in 10 women in the in UK. I was one of those women. Many new parents find it difficult to talk about negative feelings as they feel under pressure to be happy and excited at this special time in their life. But postnatal depression needs supported in non-judgmental well and it’s important women are encouraged to talk about their feelings.
What is postpartum depression?
Broadly, there are four main postpartum mood disorders to be aware of.
A lot of women might experience feelings of being overwhelmed, exhausted and tearful in those early new-born days, often termed “baby blues.” Baby blues can affect up to 75% of women and feelings will often start in the first week. This is different to postpartum depression, as symptoms, although unpleasant will usually resolve within 2 weeks.
Women experiencing prolonged feelings sadness, low mood and frequent crying may have Postnatal Depression and should seek help and support. Postnatal depression can start any time in the first year of birth. Men, adoptive parents and surrogates can also get depression in the postnatal period.
Having worries or doubts from time to time is completely normal, particularly as a new parent adjusting to your new role. When worries start to become overwhelming, persistent and severe, you could be suffering with postnatal anxiety. You may also have physical symptoms like palpitations, or panic attacks.
Postpartum psychosis is a sudden and severe mental illness where symptoms start within the first days or weeks of having a baby. Symptoms can include hallucinations, paranoia, severe mood fluctuations and confusion. This is a medical emergency and support should be sought straight away.
What are the symptoms of post-natal depression?
- A persistent feeling of low mood, sadness and tearfulness
- Low energy
- Lack of enjoyment in things/ lack of interest in activities that would normally bring you pleasure
- Difficulty sleeping or wanting to sleep all the time
- Social withdrawal
- Finding it difficult to look after yourself or your baby
- Feeling worthless, guilty or a bad mother
- Struggling to bond with your baby
Frightening thoughts about wanting to harm yourself or your baby
What causes postnatal depression?
More research is needed into the causes of postnatal depression and the link with hormonal changes. During pregnancy, the levels of oestrogen and progesterone increase to their highest levels and drop sharply after birth. This rapid drop in hormones may contribute to postnatal depression.
In addition to these chemical changes, other factors may contribute, such as a lack of or broken sleep, financial stresses and the impact on work and relationships.
Some women may be at higher risk of getting postnatal depression. Risk factors include:
- Having a personal or family history of mental illness before pregnancy, such as depression or bipolar.
- A personal history of alcoholism or drug use
- Lack of family or friend support and social isolation
- A difficult pregnancy or traumatic birth
- Relationship issues
- Money issues
- Are younger than 20 years old
- Having a baby with special needs or prematurity
- Having feeding difficulties with their baby
Having an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
Getting support and treatment options
During your routine postnatal care, you will be screened for postnatal depression by your midwife or GP. It’s a good idea to make sure your partner is also aware of signs to look out for.
If you or your partner think you could be suffering with postnatal depression, it’s important to seek support straight away.
Postnatal depression treatment with vary depending on the severity of symptoms. Options include talking therapy such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and antidepressant therapy. If you are a breast-feeding mother, talk to your GP about treatment options – many antidepressants are considered safe during breast feeding.
There are things you can also do yourself – with the support of family and friends make sure you are taking time to self-care. Getting good quality sleep, exercise and diet can all make a big difference to your mental health.
In December 2019, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. My pregnancy was uncomplicated but my labour was traumatic and long and he was eventually born by forceps. Apart from a very sore perineum, I felt fine for the first 3 weeks. I have always struggled with insomnia and found it very difficult to fall asleep between night feeds. I became very sleep deprived, functioning on 1-2 hours of sleep a day. My son also had reflux and was colicky and would spend a lot of the day crying and it was difficult to feed him.
The lack of sleep and difficulty feeding made me very anxious. Eventually the anxiety started becoming persistent I lost my appetite. Friends and family were hugely supportive, but even when they took my son for a few hours so I could rest, I couldn’t sleep as I felt so on edge and “wired.” I felt as though I could hear his cry even when he wasn’t in the house.
As a GP, I was of course aware and (I thought) prepared to recognise postpartum mood disorders. In the moment however, I struggled to think rationally, make decisions and appreciate that what I was feeling was more than just new motherhood worries or anxieties relating to feeding.
Eventually at 6 weeks postpartum, I discussed my feeling with my GP. At that point I was having a particularly bad week. My decreased appetite meant my milk supply was falling off and this was further driving my anxieties about feeding. I had a fantastic GP, a mother herself, who recognised that I was suffering with Postnatal depression and Anxiety. She referred me to Perinatal Mental Health Services who were very efficient and saw me that week. I was later started on an antidepressant, Sertraline, which is safe to use when breast feeding. It worked brilliantly and within 4 weeks I felt my normal self again.
Where to get support:
Postnatal awareness and support
Association for Mental illness
Helpline: 08451 228669. Provides self-help and support for families with excessively crying and sleepless and demanding babies.
Tel: 020 7254 6251 Support and practical help for families affected by mental illness, including ‘Newpin’ services – offering support to parents of children under-5 whose mental health is affecting their ability to provide safe parenting.
24-hour helpline 08457 90 90 90 (UK) or 1850 60 90 90 (Ireland);
Confidential emotional support for those in distress who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including suicidal thoughts.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. For The Creators has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.