You spend months waiting for the new life you're about to bring into the world. You spend ridiculous amounts of money on the perfect outfits, the perfect nursery and the perfect pram to show off your beautiful new addition to the family.
Fast-forward four weeks after you bring your new child home. You haven't been able to leave the house. Nobody has seen the pram you spent a month's salary on. You've barely had visitors because you feel like they are going to judge everything you're doing. You feel as guilty as anything because you don't feel how you thought you would about your baby. You're not alone.
Postnatal depression (PND) affects between 10-15% of new mothers. That is more than 1 in 10 new mothers. Postnatal depression is not something to be taken lightly, you will not just wake up one day and feel better. It can take months for PND to ease up if left untreated. Eighty five percent of new mothers experience 'baby blues', which is different to PND. PND lasts much longer than the 'baby blues' with more intense feelings. With the vast majority of new mothers experiencing baby blues, it's fairly surprising not many people know the difference between those two. The symptoms of baby blues may include mood swings, anxiety, sadness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, crying, reduced concentration, appetite problems and trouble sleeping.
Though PND may seem like the baby blues at first, the baby blues will eventually just go away on its own, however PND will get worse and more intense over time, eventually interfering with your daily tasks and caring for your new baby. The signs are mostly evident a couple of weeks after birth, however can begin much later; up to 6 months after.
Postnatal depression signs to look out for include:
- Depressed mood and/or severe mood swings
- Not being able to stop crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Changes in appetite
- Inability to sleep or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense frustration and anger
- Feeling that you're not a good parent
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Problems thinking clearly, concentrating or making decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
It may be embarrassing to admit or you may feel guilty about it, but there is no shame in seeking help and support. In fact, getting help is exactly what is best for your baby. You should visit your GP or tell your midwife if your negative feelings don't improve or get worse after two weeks, it becomes hard for you to care for your child or do your everyday activities, or start having negative thoughts about harming yourself or your child.
After you have sought help here are some steps you can take to help relieve some of the symptoms and negative emotions you are feeling in the meantime:
Tell your friends and family. You don't have to struggle by yourself. With the right support around you, you can improve and find the techniques that work for you.
Eat well and take care of your body. Eating well is extremely important, especially if you are breastfeeding, to keep your energy levels up! Taking care of your body will also positively impact your mental wellbeing.
Try and get out for regular walks. A regular walk or swim has been shown to boost your mood and improve motivation.
Get social. Try to find time to meet friends and family, but also spend quality time with your partner with a date night to help you reconnect.
Try to relax. Though it may be difficult with a newborn baby, finding time to relax and having 'me time' is extremely important. Even if it's a 15 minute bath! Don't be afraid to ask trusted family/friends to help out if needed.
Both the baby blues and postnatal depression can take a huge toll on you and your abilities but it is important to remember that you are no less of a parent for experiencing negative emotions. Don't be afraid to speak out.