For many women childbirth is an amazing positive experience. For some women their emotional experiences are characterised by depression, panic attacks, distressing thoughts about harming, and traumatic experiences. Recently I have met with a number of brave mums who have set about addressing these issues. My experience is that too many women suffer unnecessarily in silence.
WHAT IS PND?
Postnatal depression (PND) is a term used to cover feelings of significant low mood / depression after having a baby. The causes of PND are unknown but a difficult birth experience, previous history of depression, being isolated and hormonal imbalances play a role.
“I had a lovely pregnancy. However the birth was hard. The midwife was lovely. I went home with my baby. He was very hard to settle and sooth it seemed like he cried all the time. I thought I was a failure.
How could I as a mum not sooth this child. I got on well with my other children. I felt totally miserable, but I did not want anybody to know. 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 other baby?
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.”
The symptoms of PND
There can be a range of symptoms such as significant low mood, sadness, hopelessness, guilt, low self esteem irritability, fatigue, exhaustion, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, loss of enjoyment and anxiety. Understandably the mum asks - Will I ever have any energy again? Why am I feelings so odd and unusual – Am I going mad? NO!
How is PND treated?
The good news is that PND is treatable. First go to your GP for a good assessment and blood workup. GPs may recommend anti-depressants, refer to myself, or mums may self-refer.
Treatment includes assessment to establish PND and at what level. It’s critical that the mothers story is heard, believed and understood.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has a major role, sometimes family systems therapy can be a helpful approach. As a child psychologist I can also advise the mum or parents on sleep routines etc.
Early intervention is key.
• Don’t ‘bottle things up’. Tell somebody how you feel.
• Having a baby is tiring and stressful for mothers. You will not be able to manage all that you did before.
• Reduce your commitments and accept help.
• Take life one day at a time. Try to find the positives. Not everything is negative, even if it feels like it at the moment. It will be difficult at the start but do try.
• Get some exercise every day, even if it is only a short walk around the block.
• Make a list of things you like doing and make you feel good. On 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.
• Keep up your normal diet – you need that energy.
• Involve your partner. Minding a baby will be difficult for him too and he will be concerned about you.
• Talk to other new mums. Many feel the same.
• Remember it is NOT your fault that you have PND. Support and therapy will help the episode of illness to end quicker.
Thanks to all who attended recent talks, great reaction and comments. See www.facebook.com/dr.eddie.murphy.psychologist for weekly motivational messages.