For many women childbirth is an amazing positive experience. However I have come across many women whose experiences are sadly negative. Some experience depression, panic attacks, distressing thoughts about harming, and trauma. Too many women suffer unnecessarily in silence. Recently I met a number of brave mums who have set about addressing these issues.
“I had a lovely pregnancy. Following a hard birth, I lost a lot of blood. I was scared. I thought I would never have another baby. My baby was taken to 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 clean, but somewhere in this I was lost. I wanted somebody to tell me what was wrong with me but couln’t tell anybody Why did I not want this baby? My partner knew that something was wrong, but didn’t know what to do and so I felt totally alone for months.”
What causes Post natal depression?
We don’t know the exact cause. Some factors include
Birth Experience: A traumatic / difficult birth experience or a premature or unwell baby.
Biological factors: hormonal imbalances.
The stress of looking after a young baby and having sleep disrupted may also help to bring on the illness.
Recent bereavements or a serious illness. Women who are isolated from their families or without a supportive partner can be more likely to suffer.
Previous history of depression.
What are the symptoms?
Significant low mood, sadness, hopelessness, guilt, low self esteem. Low, unhappy and sad for much or all of the time. Worse at particular times. Good days and bad. Feeling that life is not worth living, at what should be a joyous time.
Irritability, towards any other children, occasionally the baby, but most of all the partner, who may well wonder what on earth is wrong!
All mothers get weary, but the depressed mother is so utterly exhausted that she may think there is something physically wrong.
Though tired, still problems falling asleep, or waking early, even if the partner is feeding the baby.
Loss of Appetite
Depressed mothers usually haven’t the time or the interest to eat, and this contributes to feeling irritable and run down. Some comfort eat, and then feel guilty.
Loss of enjoyment in life
What used to be a pleasure is unappealing or a bore, such as sex.
PND causes a feeling of having too little time, doing nothing well and not being able to do anything about it.
Often eing afraid to be alone with the baby, who might scream the place down or not feed or choke or be dropped or harmed. Some feel detached from the infant, feel drained, asking ‘Will I ever have any energy again? Why am I feelings so odd and unusual – Am I going mad?,’ The answer is no!
How is PND treated?
PND is treatable. Firstly go to your GP for a good assessment. Sometimes GPs recommend anti-depressants. On many occasions GP refer to myself or mums self-refer. Following assessment, I listen intently to the mothers story. I use Cognitive Behavioural and family systems therapies and advise on routines.
Next week I will look at Traumatic Stress following childbirth.
Finally It’s never too late to get help and support.