We asked Dr Kaye McMullan, IMC Katong to help us understand Post Natal Depression.
What is it and how common is it?
Having a baby can be a time of conflicting emotions, from excitement and joy to fear and anxiety. Along with other difficulties associated with making the transition into parenthood such as sleepless nights, hormonal fluctuations and mood swings, its not surprising that women experience ‘baby blues’. However some parents experience a much more severe and long lasting depression, known as post natal depression (PND).
This is a common problem affecting more then 1 in 10 women within a year of giving birth. Let us not forget that it can also affect fathers as well. It’s important for parents to realise this is not a weakness, it’s a potential complication of giving birth. Prompt treatment can help minimize the impact on yourself, your baby and your family.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Many women feel a bit down, tearful or anxious in the first week after giving birth. This is often called the “baby blues” and is so common that it’s considered normal. However the “baby blues” don’t last for more than two weeks after giving birth. If your symptoms last longer or start later, you could have postnatal depression. Postnatal depression can start any time in the first year after giving birth.
Signs that you or someone you know might be depressed include:
- a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
- lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the wider world
- lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- difficulty bonding with your baby
- withdrawing from contact with other people
- problems concentrating and making decisions
- frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your baby or yourself
Many women don’t realise they have postnatal depression, because it can develop gradually, but eventually it interferes with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks.
What causes PND?
The cause is not completely clear, however some risk factors have been identified. These include a history of mental health problems, particularly depression or anxiety, no family or close friends for support, a poor relationship with your partner or recent stressful life events, such as pregnancy or birth complications, job loss and financial stress. Even if you don’t have any of these risk factors having a baby is a stressful, overwhelming life changing event associated with hormonal changes and sleep deprivation which can trigger depression.
Post natal depression can be frightening, distressing and lonely, however there are effective treatments available. These include lifestyle changes, therapy and medications. It is therefore important to seek help early if you think you may be depressed or know someone who may have PND. Your family doctor, obstetrician, paediatrician or midwives are all trained to help. While this is not something you can treat on your own, you can make some changes to help with recovery. This includes eating well and exercising, reducing expectations of yourself, taking time out for yourself and opening up to the people around you to avoid isolation and ask for help. Remember the best way to take care of your baby is to take care of yourself.