Health

Recognising symptoms of postnatal depression

It is important for new mothers to recognise symptoms of postnatal depression and seek treatment

Childbirth is a stressful experience, and coping with your baby in the first year is demanding, physically and psychologically.

It is hardly surprising that new mums feel a range of positive and negative feelings immediately after the baby's birth.

True, some mothers are optimistic and upbeat right from the start, but others - perhaps the majority - are more apprehensive, less self-assured and with a lower level of self-confidence.

Bear in mind that childbirth is an enormous strain on your body, the intensity depending on many factors, including your health, the length of the labour and the method of delivery. Then there is increased tiredness due to your baby's feeding, sleeping and bathing schedule.

There may be other stresses for you, including lack of privacy (because you and your spouse are constantly surrounded by visitors), lack of understanding from others ("In my day, you just dealt with it") and unhelpful comments ("I don't know how you manage with your baby screaming all the time").

Such pressures frequently lead to mild feelings of depression and anxiety in the first few days. Known as the baby blues, these temporary emotions are so common that most professionals regard them as normal.

They are an almost predictable psychological reaction to the responsibility of caring for a new baby, coupled with the radical change in lifestyle that accompanies motherhood.

Postnatal depression (PND), however, is much more severe. It often lasts throughout the first year rather than just the first few weeks.

BABY BLUES AND PND:

  • Around 80 per cent of new mothers experience the baby blues, usually within five days following delivery. However, this usually passes within a few days without treatment.
  • Around 10 per cent of new mothers experience PND. This feeling is so severe and has such a negative effect on the relationship with the baby that professional help is required.
  • PND is less frequent in women who are financially secure, who can talk about their concerns and who have a lively and responsive baby.
  • PND can cause the new mum to experience a loss of self-confidence, poor sleeping pattern, loss of appetite, diminished sex drive, tearfulness and unpredictable anxiety attacks.
  • Many psychologists claim that the baby blues and PND are not separate conditions but are simply different points on a scale. PND also affects the mother-baby relationship. A baby whose mother has long-term PND is at a much higher risk of having emotional and relationship difficulties.

IF YOU HAVE SOME OF THESE EMOTIONS:

  • Be honest with yourself. Pretending that these feelings do not exist is not the answer. Denial of your worries will not make them go away. The earlier they are tackled, the better.
  • Talk to your husband. Tell him how you feel, even if your worries may seem silly. If you do not have a partner, talk to your close friend or to your doctor.
  • Talk to other new mothers. You will be reassured to find that your experience is not unique and that others lack confidence too. Sharing your worries with others can be helpful.
  • Kick guilt into touch. It is not your fault that you feel this way; nor is it your baby's fault. In fact, it is not anybody's fault, it is just one of those things.
  • Remember that these feelings usually pass in time. As with most new tasks, your feelings of anxiety and depression will usually ease as you become more confident.
  • Get professional help. If your anxieties, worries and low mood persist for more than eight weeks, speak to your doctor.

The writer is a child psychologist. This article is adapted from Young Parents.

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