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Sad woman on bed

Having a baby is certainly a life-changing experience and for most people it’s an emotional time and a very happy time. However, for some women it can be emotional to the point where they don’t really cope very well. A lot of it depends on the kind of support you have, both during your pregnancy and after you’ve had the baby.

It can really help if you’ve got family and friends that live nearby and friends with babies, so you can all go through it together. However, a lot of parents can find it quite an isolating experience when they’ve had a new baby, even if they have people nearby.

There is an expectation that all new mums and dads should be full of joy. But if new mums and dads were to talk frankly to each other more, they’d be reassured by the fact that an awful lot of parents out there feel the same way that they do.

It can be normal to feel a bit down after you’ve had a baby. New mums and dads are severely sleep-deprived, your hormone levels are changing after birth and there is a very steep learning curve while you get to know your new baby and learn the basics of feeding, sleeping and everyday care of your baby.

Have I got the baby blues?

People always talk about ‘the baby blues’ and it is very common in the days following the birth. Baby blues are thought to be partly caused by the large drop in progesterone levels in women around three days after they give birth. It coincides with the milk coming in and it can take new mums by surprise how tearful and upset they feel. The baby blues are so common, they are considered a normal event.

Do I have postnatal depression (PND)?

However sometimes a mum’s sadness and depression can persist beyond the first weeks after birth, with some new mums becoming depressed during the postnatal period. Often you might have had a bit of depression during your pregnancy, you may also have suffered depression when you’ve had a baby before, but for some women it will be a completely new experience.

If you feel depressed it is important to realise that you’re not alone. It’s really important to talk to somebody about how you feel. It can help to share how you are feeling with friends and family. If you feel that you need a little bit more help than just talking to people around you for moral support, you should speak to your midwife, health visitor or your doctor. They can decide how best to support you through this difficult time. They are very used to doing this, so never hesitate to ask them for help.

Symptoms and signs of postnatal depression (PND)

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad a lot of the time
  • A loss of interest and pleasure in things around you
  • Extreme tiredness and finding it hard to get anything done
  • Feeling no joy about your baby and/or worrying you don’t love your baby

Other symptoms:

  • Insomnia at night and exhaustion during the day
  • Inability to concentrate, perform tasks or make decisions
  • Low self-confidence
  • Change in eating habits, either eating much more or much less than is usual for you
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • Guilt, self-loathing and self-blame
  • Thoughts about harming yourself or your baby

If you think you may have postnatal depression it is important for you to see your doctor or go to your Children’s Centre, as postnatal depression is not something that will clear up if you ‘pull yourself together’. It is a recognised illness that can be treated in a variety of ways. Treatment will help you to care for and bond with your baby, which will help you to recover from depression. It will also help to improve relationships with those around you.

If you are worried that your partner, relative or friend my be suffering from postnatal depression, here is a list of common signs to look out for:

  • Lots of crying that seems to come from nowhere
  • They feel that the baby doesn’t like them and they do not seem to be bonding with the baby (eg not smiling at them or not responding to their cries)
  • They show anxiety that something is wrong with the baby
  • Lack of basic self-care – not eating, getting dressed or washing
  • Little smiling or laughter
  • Not aware of time passing or daily routine

If you think someone you know has postnatal depression, tell them they can get help to stop feeling this way and treatment is available if they speak to their health visitor or doctor.

How new mums really feel

“I remember filling out a questionnaire from the health visitor who sort of said… that if I fill it out like this again we may have to think about medication, which I thought was a bit of a jump too far, because actually all it was was that I was totally exhausted from the lack of sleep. But you do definitely feel that you are on your own.”

“We are so far from our families and support network. I think a lot of people are. And when you suddenly have a child and you kind of feel like suddenly the walls come in, like what am I supposed to do? And it’s very difficult to kind of relax and go, ‘This is all going to be fine. It’s all good.’”

“There’s just so much to do in those early days. They’re just completely helpless, you’ve literally got to do everything while you’re trying to get over giving birth. And my birth was not traumatic, but was unexpected – she was three weeks early. So getting your head around all of that as well. It was coming up to Christmas. So all of those kind of thoughts and just being able to just focus on just her, as well as also healing after a Caesarean. Overwhelmed is the word I can honestly say I felt at times.”

Support groups and websites for postnatal depression (PND)

Cry-sis

Cry-sis (0207 404 5011) provides a phone line offering support for parents struggling with a crying baby

Association for Post Natal Illness

APNI (0207 386 0868) works to put mums in contact with other mums who have recovered from postnatal illness.

Netmums

Netmums has a really good postnatal depression board where you can talk to other parents with postnatal depression and find other useful information and support.

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