By: Michelle Nortje
Anyone who is about to become a parent, or who has friends or family members who have recently had a child, should be aware of the signs and symptoms of perinatal depression.
It is important for new parents to know about ways to get support and treatment.
The ‘Baby Blues’ is a common experience for most new mums for a few days after having a baby. New motherhood is a daunting transition. Some ups and downs are expected and appropriate. A new mother’s body is recovering from birth, there are significant hormonal changes, interrupted sleep can feel intolerable, and you may not always be sure about what your baby needs from you.
Postnatal depression or anxiety, however, is a more serious mental health condition that can begin within four weeks of having a baby. The symptoms of depression need to occur for longer than two weeks for this diagnosis. They impact on areas of day-to-day functioning such as relationships, bonding with your baby or self-care tasks. In addition, a personal or family history of depression can place you at a higher risk of developing postnatal depression.
Data from the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey showed that a huge 1 in 5 mothers of children aged 24 months or less, that’s 20 percent, had been diagnosed with depression.
Signs to Look Out For
Here are the signs of postnatal depression to look out for:
- Experiencing difficult emotions (for example restless, irritable, sad, flat, hopeless, overwhelmed or empty)
- Having no energy or motivation to initiate or complete tasks
- Eating too little or too much; or experiencing a change in appetite
- Sleeping too little or too much; or feeling tired or fatigued
- Losing interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Having trouble focusing or making decisions
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Having difficulties concentrating/ remembering things
- Having physical symptoms (for example headaches, aches and pains, or stomach problems)
- Feeling worthless, guilty, or like you’re not doing a good-enough job as a mother
The relationship with your baby may be impacted by your emotions. You may not have as much interest in spending time with the baby or you may not feel connected to the baby. You may notice being less responsive, emotionally detached or feeling as if you are unable to soothe the baby.
In severe cases, women may have unusual beliefs such as thinking that the baby is someone else’s baby or that there is something wrong with the baby.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2005, the American actress and model Brooke Shields spoke about her postnatal depression candidly.
“[My postpartum depression] gripped my heart to such an extent that I didn’t even have the desire to try to overcome it,” she said. “I mean, I was flattened by it. I was devastated by it. And it wasn’t the ‘baby blues.’ And I was told it was the ‘baby blues’ at first. And so then, what was wrong with me was even worse. I thought, ‘Well then I must epitomize failure if I can’t even get past this. … [I want other moms to know that] it has nothing to do with your love for [your children]. … Pay attention to the feelings that you’re feeling and talk about it and ask your doctor. … Find out what medicine’s available. You don’t have to be miserable.”
Fathers Can Experience Postnatal Depression Too
It is important to remember that fathers can also experience postnatal depression. This can impact on their ability to interact with their child, support their spouses, or complete everyday tasks.
It is estimated that 1 in 10 fathers in Australia experience postnatal depression or anxiety.
Treatment for Postnatal Depression
Reaching out for help and seeking treatment advice from a health professional such as a GP, midwife, psychologist or psychiatrist can help new parents to adjust to the multitude of changes that parenthood brings. It is important to get the right kind of support for postnatal depression so that you can really enjoy building a relationship with your new baby!
Individual psychotherapy can help clients integrate their mothering role into their identity, and to access increased support from family members and friends. Other forms of psychological interventions such as Parent Guidance or Parent-Infant Psychotherapy can be useful to help new mothers when difficulties in feeding, soothing, sleep and bonding are experienced.
Psychiatrists and GPs can assist with prescribing medications that can help ease depression symptoms that are also safe for breast-feeding mothers.
However, in severe instances where there are thoughts of hurting the baby or oneself, it is imperative to get immediate professional assistance and possibly hospitalisation to ensure you and your baby are safe.
With early intervention and treatment, research shows high rates of recovery for postnatal depression.
Some Self-Help Tips
Here are a few ways to support yourself through the stressful start of being a new parent. However, if you find your symptoms of postnatal depression are persistent please reach out for help from registered health professionals.
Self-care: Try to include at least one short activity during the day that allows you to fill up your own cup. For example, wash your hair, listen to an audiobook or take a walk.
Look after your health: Adequate restful sleep, healthy nutrition, moderate exercise, and getting some time outdoors are all important ways to help your body recover from birth and the hard work of feeding and caring for a new-born. You will need to adjust routines to fit with the sleep needs of a new-born baby. However, it is important to try to get as much rest as possible.
Lean on others for support: Stay connected to family and friends—even if you’d rather be alone. Isolation often makes the situation feel harder. So, let loved ones know what you need and how you’d like to be supported.
Share your feelings: Being able to talk through your struggles can ease your burden and perhaps generate some more realistic expectations of parenthood! Join a mother’s group, talk to other new parents or share with a trusted friend. It can be reassuring to hear that other mums and dads share your worries.
Find people who can help: Get assistance for extra tasks and responsibilities like childcare for older children, housework, and errands. This can free up space so you can get much needed rest or to just enjoy your time with your baby.
Keep a diary: Keeping track of your emotions, thoughts and experiences can be helpful to notice your progress as you begin to feel better and build a meaningful relationship with your baby.
Give yourself credit: Being a parent is hard work! So, remember to compliment yourself for the things you’re able to accomplish each day, no matter how small the success. Be kind and compassionate to yourself!
Remember that you don’t have to be supermum!
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Feature image: Photo by Hollie Santos on Unsplash