Between 10-15% of women suffer from Postnatal Depression after birth, but no one knows for sure who will get it or why. There are several factors which may increase the risk of getting PND, but it still seems to be a bit of a lottery as far as who gets it.
Some women get it after their first birth, then never again. Others may have one or two kids with no depression, then suddenly get it after their third. Some women may have experienced several of the 'risks' for PND and never have any problems. Other women may have had none of the risk and yet suffer badly from PND.
Researchers into postnatal depression don't even know for sure if it's to do with fluctuating hormone levels, if it's a reaction to the change in the woman's perception of herself as a woman or if it's a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder following a difficult birth. Treatment with hormones hasn't been proven to help to women, women who are overjoyed to be mothers and women who've had exactly the birth experience they were planning have gone on to develop PND.The symptoms of PND can start to appear a few days after the birth with the almost ubiquitous 'baby blues'. Some mothers may find they can't shake the baby blues and become more and more depressed. Other mothers' depression develops more slowly and silently, showing itself around the 4th to 6th month after birth.
PND can even appear as late as 2 years after the birth. In this instance, it seems to be related more to having very little or no support from a partner – it's worth noting that one doesn't need to be a single mother to have no support.
There also doesn't seem to be any sure-fire way of preventing Postnatal Depression, though there is some common advice on things you can do to help ease any symptoms: "eat healthy foods, get rest and be kind to yourself". These are exactly the things you wouldn't be doing if you were suffering from PND, so it may not be as easy as it sounds.
I suffered from very late onset PND with my first son. Yes, the one 'caused' by having an unsupportive partner. I hadn't had a lie-in for 2 years as my partner wouldn't get up with our son in the mornings, and I remember feeling angry when he would phone me during the day when he was having 'a coffee break' (I never got a coffee break!).
I had gone to my GP as I was suffering from very bad insomnia and was surprised when she said she thought I had Postnatal Depression. At that point, I had assumed that it only affected women within the first few months after birth. She assured me that wasn't always the case.
I realised I was putting the needs of my son first, the needs of my partner second and I was third... except I never had enough time to get to me. On my GP's advice, I insisted that my partner wake up with our son on Saturday morning so that I could have a lie-in (though, in reality, that petered out after a couple months and it was up to me again to wake at 5.30am 7 days a week). I hired a babysitter for a few hours a week so that I could go off and do things like have an aromatherapy massage, get my hair done or just 'be pampered'. I hadn't been pampered since my son was born.
When my son was two and a half, he started going to a nursery in the mornings which gave me even more time to do things like go to the gym or meet with a friend for coffee. I went back to work for a few hours a week which gave me other adults to talk to.
Slowly, but surely I started feeling better about myself. I had gone for so long without anyone, including myself, focusing on me or my needs, that I'd ended up a bit 'empty'. Making an effort to splurge on myself made a huge difference. I must say though, that my relationship didn't last for reasons entirely related to my partner's unsupportiveness.
I am now in a new relationship and pregnant again. This time around I have been ENORMOUSLY selfish compared to last time! I realised the hard way that putting all of your care, nurturing, time and effort into everyone else in your family while ignoring yourself and your own needs can put you in a very painful place. This time my energy output is much more balanced and hopefully it will remain that way after the birth.
All I know is that I won't feel embarrassed if my house gets messy, I won't feel guilty if I don't make dinner and most importantly, I won't forget about 'me'. Other mothers I've spoken to who had PND said that after subsequent births they made much more of an effort to focus on themselves, which helped them enormously. One friend of mine suffered from terrible PND after her first two children were born: when her third child was born she went back to university to get her Masters degree and didn't suffer PND, despite having a baby, two older kids and a husband to look after.
Remember, it is never a bad thing to take care of yourself!
If you are simply feeling 'low' or are suffering terribly or silently, please make sure you get help by contacting the Association for Post-Natal Illness.
You aren't alone and it will get better.