Having a baby is a life-changing experience that brings joy and happiness to parents and their families. However, for some of us, it can take time to feel these positive emotions as feelings of negativity and depression can be triggered after giving birth.
Postnatal depression is more common than many realise. According to the charity Mind around 10-15% of new mothers are affected.
Here I explains the differences between 'Baby Blues' and postnatal depression and provides practical tips on what you can do if you think you may have concerns for your own mental well-being or that of someone close to you.
What are the 'Baby Blues'?
This is a common temporary psychological state soon after childbirth when a new mother may have sudden mood swings; feeling very happy, then very sad, crying for no apparent reason, feel impatient, unusually irritable, restless, anxious, lonely and sad. It is very common, but only lasts days or a couple of weeks, unlike depression. Although the symptoms are similar, it is not the same as postnatal depression which is an illness and requires help.
What is postnatal depression?
This is a form of depression which develops after having a child - typically between six weeks to six months after giving birth. But it can develop at any time, and has all the symptoms of any depressive illness. Whilst there are some risk factors that can predispose a mother to it, the condition can also often strike out of the blue.
What are the symptoms for postnatal depression?
• Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
• Problems bonding with the baby
• Possible feelings of wanting to hurt oneself or the baby
• Loss of enjoyment of things one normally takes pleasure in
• Difficulty concentrating, or relating to your partner
In the case of suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming the baby, postpartum depression is a medical emergency, and medical care should be accessed immediately.
What should I do if I think I have postnatal depression?
The most important thing is not to ignore your feelings and signs that this is what you might be suffering from. You should talk with your partner, your family, and your GP - especially if you have any thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
Your health visitor may use a special questionnaire to assess your mental health and wellbeing if they are concerned, or indeed as a matter of routine.
Your doctor may also do some tests that can check for anemia or if you have an underactive thyroid gland, which can also cause tiredness, lethargy and feeling under the weather.
It's imperative not to feel that you are unnecessarily troubling anyone - it's so important to seek help as early as possible so that you can get the appropriate help, and enjoy your baby and your life. Also do not fear that your baby will be taken away. Every effort is made to keep you together, even if you need admission to hospital.
How can postnatal depression be treated?
Treatment depends on each individual's symptoms and circumstances. It can be just psychological support with your GP and self-help groups, through to psychotherapy and medication if required. The medication will depend on if you are breastfeeding or not, so as not to harm your baby. In rare cases some mothers may need admission to hospital for inpatient mental health care.
For more information on postnatal depression speak with your GP or other healthcare professional.