By Dr Eddie Murphy, Portarlington Psychologist and Operation Transformation Expert.
Sinead writes : ‘I had a lovely pregnancy. Following a very hard birth, I lost a lot of blood. I was scared. I thought I would never have another baby. My baby was taken to the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU). All turned out fine, or so it seemed.
I felt totally miserable, but I did not want anybody to know. After coming home, I fell into a routine. The baby was fed and cleaned, but somewhere in there I was lost. I wanted somebody to tell me what was wrong with me, but at the same time how could I tell anybody that I couldn’t cope? Why did I not want this baby? I even had intrusive thoughts I would harm the one I loved most. I continued to feel this way for months. My partner knew that something was wrong, but didn’t know what to do, and so I felt totally alone. My GP says I have Post Natal Depression PND’
“Fatigue plays a huge role in PND. Babies are demanding and sleep is in short supply.
PND can rob the mother of the confidence needed to deal with the child, and interfering, as opposed to supportive, family members can perpetuate the feeling of being unable to cope.
Anxiety is common and often it takes the form of being afraid to be alone with the baby. On many occasions mums can have very scary thoughts that revolve around hurting the baby in some way.
When a mum responds with anxiety to these thoughts, it is a clear sign that they love their infant very much and would never harm their baby.
Some mothers with PND feel detached from the infant, so drained that they ask themselves: ‘Will I ever have any energy again?’ ‘Why am I feeling so awful and unusual?’ ‘Am I going mad?’ The answer is no. I am sure about that.
Happily for most women, childbirth is an amazingly positive experience. But for some, their feelings post-birth are characterized by depression, panic attacks, distressing thoughts about harming the child and traumatic memories associated with the birth.
I genuinely believe that the medical profession underestimates the emotional impact on a woman in childbirth when things switch from ‘Everything is going well’ to ‘Oh my God, everything going wrong’, and suddenly the baby is in distress or an emergency C-section needs to be performed.
Post-natal depression (PND) is an umbrella term used to cover feelings of significant depression, anxiety and trauma after having had a baby.
Unfortunately, my experience is that too many women suffer with PND unnecessarily in silence.
While we really don’t know the exact cause of PND, factors associated with it include:
• Birth experience. A traumatic/difficult birth experience or a premature or unwell baby is sometimes reported by those who develop post-natal depression.
• Biological factors. Hormonal imbalances.
• Impact of caring for a vulnerable child. The stress of looking after a baby and of having sleep disrupted may also help to bring on the illness in susceptible people.
• Life events. Recent bereavements or a serious illness. In addition, women who are isolated from their families or without a supportive partner can be more likely to suffer depression after birth.
• Previous history of depression.
Heard, believed and understood
Mums with PND need to be heard, believed and understood. A mum experiencing PND can be irritable towards her other children and occasionally her baby, but mostly towards her partner, who may well wonder what on earth is wrong.
Act early on, don’t bottle it up. Talk to somebody about how you feel and seek professional help. Support, possible medications and therapy will help end PND.
Often mothers believe they have done long-lasting damage to their child. This is untrue. Children are very resilient and adaptable.
The good news is that PND is treatable. Go to your GP for a good assessment. The GP or the mum herself can refer to counselling or psychology services.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has a major role and sometimes family systems therapy can help.
Early intervention is key.
Don't 'bottle things up'. Talk to somebody.
Having a baby is tiring and stressful for all mothers. You will not be able to manage all the things you did before birth. Reduce your commitments and accept offers of help.
Take life one day at a time. Try to find the positive in things. Not everything in your life is always negative, even if it feels like it at the moment. It will be difficult at the start but do try.
If you don't look for the positive things in your life you won't see them.
Really try to get some exercise every day, even if it is only a short walk, fresh air really helps.
Make a list of things you like doing that make you feel good. On the bad days look at the list and encourage yourself to do at least one of them.
Take any opportunity you can to get some sleep.
Make sure that you try to keep up your normal diet – you will need all the energy you can get.
Involve your partner. Having a young baby will be difficult for him too and he will be concerned about your illness.
Talk to other mums with new babies. You will find that they also feel many of the same things you do.
Remember that it is not your fault that you have PND. Support and therapy will help it end as quickly as possible.