If you feel slightly low, anxious or tearful for up to two weeks after giving birth, chances are you have the “baby blues”. This is an ordinary hormonal reaction as the body adjusts to no longer being pregnant. It doesn’t require treatment although it can help to talk to someone.
If the symptoms are closer to “that mood indigo” Nina Simone sings about – if they’re more severe and last longer - you might have postnatal or postpartum depression. This can set in at any time in the first year of motherhood, but may begin during pregnancy. PND shares symptoms with other types of depression:
- Persistent depression or severe mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- An inability to sleep, or sleeping too much
- Loss of appetite, or eating too much
- An inability to enjoy the things you used to
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Severe anxiety or panic attacks, which can include a racing heartrate, breathlessness, sweating, collapse or symptoms resembling a heart attack
- Withdrawing from people, even your loved ones
- Depressed thinking might include believing you’re a bad mother, that your baby is rejecting you, guilt over shortcomings perceived in yourself, a loss of self-worth, hopelessness and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
- Anxious thinking can include overwhelming fears that your baby is ill or dying, that nothing is sterile or safe enough for your baby, or that you might harm your baby
A small percentage of women develop a more extreme condition, postpartum psychosis, which can include hallucinations and delusions, confusion, obsessive thoughts about your baby, and attempts to harm yourself or your baby.
The good news
Unlike many mental health conditions, postnatal depression is a temporary condition. It is not a weakness; it’s something more than 1 in 10 women experience. You should seek help as soon as possible, although it’s never too late to get assistance.
There is no one treatment of postnatal depression. It depends on the type and severity of the presenting symptoms:
For some women, it’s sufficient to speak to a partner, family or friends. Other women benefit from a group where mothers learn from and support each other emotionally.
A routine is helpful: eating regularly, sleeping when the baby sleeps, exercising, and making time for yourself. Avoid alcohol and drugs, which can intensify depression.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): New mothers may have unrealistic ideas about motherhood – what they “should be” feeling and doing. This creates a perceived lack in oneself, along with discontent. CBT helps you find new ways of thinking that are more realistic and positive.
Other psychotherapies involve meeting with a therapist who assists you in understanding how your relationships, or something that’s happened to you in the past, are contributing to the depression.
If self-help or therapy is not for you, your doctor can inform you about taking anti-depressants or hormone therapy, including what medications shouldn’t be taken while breast-feeding.
The stigma of mental health often prevents mothers from asking for help at a time when it’s most needed. Some mothers become afraid that their babies will be taken from them. However, health care professionals recognise this would be the worst thing for both you and your child. Our aim is to help you recover so that you can bond fully with your baby and experience the positive aspects of motherhood. If you’re going to sing along with Nina Simone, let it be to “Feeling Good”!