New mothers can often feel insecure, sad or anxious. Elated one moment, tearful, tired or irritable the next. Afraid and inadequate. These ‘baby blues’ are triggered by changing hormone levels and usually start a day or so after birth. They’re so common they’re almost normal, and usually stop a few days later.
But some mothers suffer from Post-Natal Depression (PND). This can start gradually or suddenly, most commonly when the baby is four to six months old, and for no apparent reason at all.
The symptoms vary a lot, but centre around feeling exhausted and unhappy. You may have good days and bad days, or especially bad times of day. You may become tearful, confused and unable to cope. And guilty about not coping.
You probably feel irritable or indifferent towards your partner. Perhaps you can’t get to sleep, or wake too early, or have nightmares. You may have no appetite, or feel hungry all the time and yet be unable to eat. Or maybe you overeat, and then feel guilty about eating too much.
You may have panic attacks, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, stomach pains, headaches or visual disturbances.
You may feel terribly anxious about things which wouldn’t normally bother you. Or think about death. These thoughts can be very disturbing, especially for your family. That is if you can bring yourself to tell anyone about them.
Risk factors for PND include a history of depression, an unsupportive partner, having no-one to confide in, or no job outside the home. Or a premature or sick baby. Or feeling you can’t meet your own or other people’s expectations. Or stressful events, like moving house, your partner changing jobs or becoming unemployed or ill.
PND usually clears up eventually, although it can sometimes take years. But once it’s recognised, your family’s love and support make a huge difference.
And you do need to take care of yourself! Don’t try to do too much. Rest during the day. Take exercise. Counselling is very helpful, both for you and your partner. Because it’s important that he understands what’s going on, and that it may take some time for you to recover. Ask him to help you get enough food, rest and exercise, and to constantly reassure you of his love.
A few things help prevent PND. Like reducing your commitments during pregnancy, eating well and relaxing whenever you can. Not moving houses before the baby is six months old. Having a close friend you can turn to helps enormously.
Just because you’ve suffered from PND before doesn’t mean it’ll happen again, but react quickly to any signs if it does and immediately ask for help. It will make a big difference.
Be physically close your partner, even if you don’t feel like sex. Don’t blame either yourself or him for your feelings. Encourage him to help you in any way he can, and you’ll soon recover and be a stronger couple than ever before.