Postnatal depression (PND), also called postpartum depression (PPD), is one of several different kinds of illness that women can experience after giving birth.
It can sometimes be difficult to openly acknowledge, accept, and talk about mental illnesses, but this is often one of the best ways to help. Women may find postnatal depression especially difficult to accept because of fear of being labelled a bad mother - something not at all true! But knowledge is power when facing any kind of depression, and this article aims to inform you of this important issue and dispel any stigmas associated with it. Keep reading to learn all about postnatal depression, how to recognise it, and how it can be treated.
What is postnatal depression?
If you take away only one piece of information from this article, let it be this: postnatal depression is not “bad mum syndrome,” it is an illness. If you suffer from it, you are not a lousy parent or person. You are simply experiencing a temporary depressive state whose onset came at the time your baby was born.
There is a lot of stress, both emotional and physical, that comes with caring for a baby. This, coupled with insufficient sleep and hormonal changes, can be enough to change a person’s brain chemistry and result in a depression. There are also countless personal circumstances that can contribute to the development of this illness, like not having enough financial security, having relationship problems with a partner, fear of career stagnation, or even feelings of loneliness.
You should remember, however, that for the vast majority of women who experience postnatal depression, the symptoms are temporary and don’t result in permanent depression. Some women feel relief in a few weeks, and for others it takes several months. Whatever your case, just try your best to work through it and focus on each day.
Who can suffer from postnatal depression?
No mum is safe from postnatal depression. In fact, 10-15% of all mums will experience it. You are even susceptible to it if you have had children before and had no problems. However, there are some people who have a slightly higher risk of experiencing postnatal depression:
- Those who have had depression or anxiety at some point in their lives
- Mums who had postnatal depression after having a previous baby
- Those who have suffered a traumatic event recently, such as a death in the family or the loss of a job
- Women who don’t have strong support systems in their family and friends
- Teenage and very young mothers
Signs of postnatal depression
Since it is such a common problem, everyone should be able to recognise the signs of postnatal depression. Even if you never experience them yourself, you may be able to help a friend or loved one in the future. Here are some common symptoms of PND:
- You’re more irritable and angry than usual, especially toward your children and partner
- Your feelings seem unstable or you’re having mood swings
- You are completely exhausted
- You’re having insomnia or other difficulty getting restful sleep
- You feel anxious or are suffering from panic attacks, including heart palpitations or dizzy spells
- You’re feeling low self-confidence and/or having negative thoughts about yourself
- You feel guilty, possibly about not being a good enough mum
- You are generally unhappy or crying a lot, especially at a specific time of day (either morning, afternoon, or at night)
- You’ve lost your appetite or are not interested in food
- You’re just not feeling like yourself—something is off, but you can’t put your finger on it
- You’re not interested in sex or affection
- You find yourself avoiding people, or you are suffering from social anxiety
- Normal, everyday tasks are difficult to accomplish or you feel easily overwhelmed
- You’re not interested in your usual things or not enjoying things that you should enjoy, such as spending time with your baby
- You feel generally kind of hopeless or you feel like things won’t ever get better
Postnatal depression or baby blues?
Postnatal depression and baby blues are sometimes lumped together, or they are mixed up. This is because they are similar in nature—both are periods of depressed or gloomy feelings after having a baby. However, there are some clear differences between these two problems. Most of it comes down to timing. Whereas baby blues typically starts right after birth and subsides after about two weeks, postnatal depression often begins when the baby is between 1 and 2 months old. This isn’t always true though, as some women begin experiencing PND during their pregnancy.
If you think you have baby blues, see if the feelings go away in a couple of weeks. If they do, they were probably just caused by hormonal changes after birth. If they don’t, be sure to seek help right away.
If the differences between these two postnatal illnesses are still unclear, here you have another article on baby blues.
What to do & how to help others
Fortunately, postnatal depression is not difficult to treat and can usually be managed with a little bit of effort. As with any type of depression, the first big step is accepting that you may have a problem. Once you do, here are some next steps to follow:
- From CaptainMums, we strongly encourage you to visit a GP and discuss your concerns. The doctor may not be surprised (as this is a quite common problem), and certainly won’t judge you. Furthermore, he will have lots of information and treatment options that can help you through it.
- Also, talk about it with the important people in your life. Don’t be shy about it—sharing your concerns is one of the quickest and most effective solutions.
- You could also find a support group. Try looking at The Association for Postnatal Illness or the PANDAS Foundation.
- You may also want to try individual therapy. Many women find that psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy can help them gain perspective and eliminate negative thinking.
- Exercise as regularly as you can. It doesn’t have to be intense; even a short daily walk can make a big difference.
- Be sure to eat regularly and follow a well-balanced diet.
- Finally, if these options aren’t really doing the trick, your doctor may prescribe you antidepressants.
Once aware of the problem, women who are actively trying to get better typically feel some relieve between 3 – 6 months. But even if you don’t follow the same timeline, you have nothing to feel bad about. The trick is to keep trying and to be open and honest with yourself, your support system, and your doctor.
However, many women don’t recognise the symptoms. If you think a friend or family member is experiencing PND, there are lots of ways to help:
- Gently explain to her what you know about the illness.
- Be supportive and encouraging. Ask her often how she is feeling.
- Encourage her to visit a doctor.
- Offer to accompany her to a support group.
- Finally, give unconditional support, even if she refuses to recognise the problem.
How to prevent it
Luckily for you, you’ve already taken the first step in preventing postnatal depression, which is educating yourself about the issue. The more aware you are of this illness, the easier it will be for you to take preventive measures. Here are some other important ways to protect yourself:
- Know your own history, and even your family history. Do you have a history or depression or anxiety? Does anyone in your family have a history of postnatal depression?
- If you think you may be at a higher risk of developing this illness, try working with a therapist throughout your pregnancy.
- Be open and honest about your concerns and fears with the people closest to you. Their support may help prevent negative feelings.
- Pay close attention to your diet and eating schedule to be sure that you are getting proper nutrition.
- You should also exercise as far into your pregnancy as possible, and start again as quickly as you can after giving birth.
- As hard as it is to get rest with a newborn baby, try to get as much sleep and relaxation time as you can.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or using other altering substances, as they can contribute to mood swings.