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Post natal depression

support for women during and after pregnancy
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What help is available

It can be frightening to suspect, or be told that you may be suffering from Post Natal Depression (PND). This is not the ‘baby blues’, which is a common reaction three to ten days after birth when rapid readjustment of hormones can cause a temporary jolt in mood – often leaving new mothers over-emotional and tearful. The baby blues normally settle in less than a week but PND is a different story altogether.

Symptoms of Post Natal Depression

Symptoms of PND normally develop within six weeks of the birth. You might have PND if you:

  • Continually experience one or more of the common emotions of depression – sadness, lack of motivation, worthlessness, guilt, hopelessness, irritability/anger.
  • Experience symptoms such as loss of concentration, sleep problems (even when you do get a chance to sleep), reduced appetite and ruminations on death/suicide.
  • You may also feel hostile towards your close family and friends and/or your baby or simply be uninterested in them.

Is it my fault?

Chances are that you’ll sense that something is not right – you may even be googling the subject right now for that very reason. Keep at the forefront of your mind that you’re not to blame for feeling like this; there can be many causes for post natal depression, not least of which is living in a society which effectively isolates the new mother and her baby from traditional tribal/family networks of support. Other risk factors are a family history of depression and poverty/poor living conditions. No surprises there then. Add to the mix that you’re probably still feeling physically out of sorts as well the huge pressure to be the “perfect” mother, the NSPCC’s recent report that more than half of new mothers experience loneliness and difficulties coping, should not come as a shock.

First and Foremost – Tell Someone!

Depression of any kind can be self-perpetuating; you don’t want to bother anyone with your problems – and that’s assuming you can get up the energy to get out of the door in the first place. If you’re in any way worried that you might be suffering from PND, go and see your doctor. If you’re still seeing a midwife or health visitor you can also talk to them. PND is a recognised condition and your GP will be able to offer you a range of options to tackle it. You can also take some of the following steps to help:

Internet self help

A first line of support can come from the internet, which can be especially valuable if some of the suggestions offered below seem too daunting. Specific organisations exist to support women with PND, just two being the Association for Post-Natal Illness (APNI) and Pre and postNatal Depression, Advice and Support (PANDAS). Both offer telephone helplines and email support alongside online information, education and advice.

Exercise

Exercise can be a valuable tool to combat depression, even though that may be the last thing you feel like doing. Ask your midwife or GP if they know of any local “buggy walks”. These are organised by local councils, church and NCT groups and not only do they get you out in the fresh air and moving without having to worry about leaving the baby, but they can be a great way to meet other new mothers.

Don’t be alone

post natal depressionWhich brings us on to one of the best ways to combat the isolation that is a major trigger for PND – find others in the same position as you. Your GP or health visitor will be able to point you in the direction of local groups offering, for example, baby massage or singing and signing with your baby, and don’t forget the routine well-baby check-ups at your local health centre. With PND the hardest thing is getting yourself out of the door so try and get a friend or family member to drag you along to the first couple of meetings, after which hopefully you’ll have begun to make some new friends. There may also be a local PND group, where you can meet other women experiencing similar difficulties – which can be both supportive and reassuring.

Therapy

Your GP may refer you for a therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT attempts to reduce negative patterns in your thinking, and can take the form of a self-help course you can do with a book or online, or a talking therapy where you’ll see a counsellor, either individually or as part of a group.

Anti-depressants

You and/or your GP may think that antidepressants are the best option for you. They can be particularly valuable in enabling you to motivate yourself to take further action – for example by embarking on some of the options described above. It’s possible to take antidepressants and continue to breastfeed – modern antidepressants, known as SSRIs, have been proven to have minimal interaction with breastmilk. You’ll need to take the tablets for around two to four weeks before you’re likely to notice any effects, and your GP will want to monitor you closely. Once you feel they’re helping, it’s important to go on taking them for at least the prescribed amount of time – if you stop too soon the depression may return.

Postpartum Psychosis

For a minority of women PND can be more severe. As with other forms of depression, if it doesn’t respond to first-line treatments your GP or counsellor may refer you to a multidisciplinary mental health team who can offer more intensive treatment and support.

Postpartum psychosis is a totally separate condition to PND. It’s much rarer, usually manifests within a few weeks of the birth and has more in common with bipolar disorder than with PND. Sufferers experience rapidly cycling moods with extreme highs and lows, confusion and delusions. A psychotic illness involves losing touch with reality – you may misinterpret offers of help as threats to harm your baby, for example. It is vital to get help as quickly as possibly if you (or someone else) fears that this may be happening to you – it is treatable, and one episode does not necessarily mean you’ll experience it with subsequent babies.

Remember, you’re not alone!

PND does not have to negatively impact upon your relationship with your baby if you get help quickly. Whether you choose friends and family, anonymity online or a visit to your GP, talk to someone if you’re worried. Your worries will be taken seriously and the process of recovery can begin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Phylly Alexander

About Phylly Alexander

Phylly Alexander is a working parent. She’s been doing it for a long time, with number one son just about to turn 21, and by the time the last child (hopefully!) flies the nest she will have been at it for around 30 years! Apart from the first six years at home with aforementioned number one son, she has worked throughout, mainly in secretarial/admin roles for employers including solicitors, the Employment Service and, for the past 12 years, the NHS. She trained as a student midwife and has written for The Practising Midwife. A middle-aged “techie” she is hoping to improve her work-life balance by getting more internet work she can do from home – she enjoys writing, editing and proofreading. As someone who is interested in (and unfortunately has an opinion on) almost everything, she has a wide-ranging general knowledge – an asset for pub quiz nights. More specific interests include cycling, running, midwifery and Shakespeare! She is also currently completing an unfinished degree via the Open University and is finding the study of sociology a real eye-opener. The job that got away? Teaching. Age (aka tiredness!) and family commitments probably mean she’ll never get to do it now but…. she thinks she would have loved it.

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