Written by: Cally Worden
Not all new Mums experience that post-birth high that advertisers would have us believe is the norm. It’s estimated that around 80% of Mums fall victim to the Baby Blues in the week following the birth, where instead of feeling ecstatic they feel emotionally low, weepy, indefinably sad and anxious. These feelings will typically pass within a couple of weeks as hormone levels settle, Mums will normally adjust to their new role. But for a significant number of Mums the Baby Blues deepen, and turn into depression and anxiety.
What is Post Natal Depression?
Post Natal Depression (PND) is a recognised illness. This is not just a case of a sleep-deprived-and-hormonally-challenged woman feeling a bit sad. Clinical depression is a serious business and, thankfully, healthcare professionals now take far greater interest and care in helping those who are suffering. PND symptoms are relatively simple to diagnose and typically include some or all of the following:
- Hypersensitivity or irritability
- Feelings of sadness and bouts of crying and/or tearfulness
- Finding it difficult to concentrate
- Negative feelings such as hopelessness, helplessness, guilt and sadness
- Undue worry and anxiety
- A difficulty in sleeping
- Lack of interest in things you normally enjoy
- A modification of eating habits
- Body aches
- Exhaustion and fatigue
At its most extreme PND can lead some women to believe they are incapable of caring for their child. A minority also report fearing that they may harm their baby in some way.
What is Post Natal Anxiety?
Post Natal Anxiety (PNA) affects around 10% of new Mums. It is characterised by intense feelings of worry or panic. It normally develops between 1 and 3 weeks after birth, but can build over several weeks beyond that to reach levels of extreme distress. Anxiety is closely linked to depression, many women experience elements of both. The symptoms of PNA are:
- Extreme irritability and anxiety
- Chest pains and shortness of breath
- Agitated behaviour, and a general restlessness
- Tingling hands and feet
- Uncontrollable shaking or trembling
- A sensation of being choked or smothered
- Faintness, dizziness and sweating
- Hot or cold flashes
- A genuine fear of losing control, dying or going mad
- Fear that your child may come to some harm
What Causes Depression and Anxiety After Birth?
No single causal factor has been identified in either case. Hormones, genetics, environmental, psychological and biochemical factors are all thought to play a part. What experts have identified is that certain individuals seem more susceptible to suffering. Things that may predict an increased likelihood of developing PND or PNA include:
- A prior or family history of anxiety or depression
- Intense anxiety or depression during the third trimester of pregnancy
- Marital problems
- Stress over childcare
- Managing an existing child who has a challenging personality or difficult temperament
- Lack of social support
How to Help Yourself
Seeking professional medical guidance is always wise if you believe you are suffering from PND or PNA. Beyond that there are a number of things you can do for yourself to help:
- Sharing your feelings – bottling stuff up only suppresses it
- Being kind to yourself – birth and the early days of motherhood take their toll. Be sure to eat, sleep and rest well. Banish any feelings of guilt you may be harbouring. PND and PNA are clinical conditions – NOT an signal you are failing as a mother
- Being realistic about your personal expectations – if you get through any day having cared for your baby adequately you are doing well. If the house isn’t cleaned, the washing isn’t done it doesn’t matter. Keep things in perspective
- Making yourself feel good – taking care of your basic needs is one thing, but having a soak in the bath, putting on makeup, painting your nails, or simply wearing a favourite outfit can make your feel like a woman again, instead of just a mother. You are the sum of ALL your parts
- Trying to get out and about – it’s tempting to stay holed-up at home. Safer that way. But this does your self-esteem and confidence no favours. Take the buggy for a short trot around the block. Pop out to the shops for a magazine. Fresh air and a little sunshine can work wonders on your mood
- Taking it slow – you are not Superwoman, so don’t act like it. Prioritise your home tasks and do what you can each day without pushing yourself too hard. Your body is tired, you are emotionally and psychologically stressed. You need to be taking it easy.
As a final note it’s important to remember that PND usually develops within the first 6 weeks after birth, but can surface up a year later. If you have recently had a baby and recognise any of the symptoms mentioned above in yourself, then please do seek help. PND and PNA are no longer swept under the carpet. They are fairly easy to treat with support; most sufferers are soon feeling much brighter and able to enjoy their new baby unencumbered.