Depression, Perinatal Mental Health

Postnatal Depression: When the Joy Doesn’t Come

Today is Mother’s Day in the UK.

For mothers up and down the country it is a day filled with chocolates, flowers, and cups of tea carefully made by children. For others, it is a day filled with sadness and despair. This could be for many reasons; such as those who have experienced pregnancy loss, the loss of a child, the loss of a parent, are estranged from a child/their parent, or for those struggling with infertility. This picture (artist: Mari Andrew) has been doing the rounds on Facebook today, and I feel it’s quite appropriate.

But what about those mothers who have their babies in their arms, who are struggling to get through today? The mothers who seem to “have it all”, but are feeling lower than they’ve ever felt? What about the mothers with postnatal depression on Mother’s Day? We must be sure not to forget them, and to reach out to them if we can. If you are feeling low today, you are not alone.

What is Postnatal Depression?

The booties have been knitted, the nursery looks like a picture from the Mamas & Papas website, and the beautiful tiny clothes hang up in the wardrobe ready to be worn; it all looks perfect. Having a baby is a joyful time for all, and so you should be happy… Right? Not always. It isn’t always smooth sailing for everyone, and it’s important that we all acknowledge that.

Postnatal Depression (PND) is something you are likely to have heard of whether you are a Mum or not, as it has been gaining much-needed exposure in the media over the last few years in an effort to reduce the stigma surrounding it. Here are a list of celebrity Mums who have spoken out about their struggles with PND.

PND is a type of depression that can be experienced after having a baby. It usually affects women, but can affect fathers and partners too (and I refer to ‘women’ or ‘mothers’ in this article purely because they are the most common sufferers – I am not aiming to exclude men). It is quite common, with more than 1 in 10 women thought to have experienced it within a year of giving birth. It can’t be predicted (although factors such as a traumatic birth, previous mental illness, having no support network, a poor relationship with your partner, a negative home environment, and having had PND before can all increase the likelihood), and it is not your fault if you develop it.

Postnatal Depression and the ‘Baby Blues’

Many women experience the ‘baby blues’ after having a baby. It usually comes on within the first week or two, and can be a combination of your hormones adjusting to not being pregnant anymore, exhaustion from the sleepless nights (I promise they don’t last forever!), physical recovery from the birth, struggles surrounding breastfeeding, and the realisation that your life has changed forever (it’s quite normal to think “oh no, what have I done?!”) You can feel a bit emotional and tearful, but it doesn’t last long.

PND usually comes in a bit later than the ‘baby blues’; sometimes it’s around 6 weeks, and other times it can be anywhere up to a year after giving birth. It can come on gradually or suddenly, and it can range from very mild to very severe. It doesn’t usually go away on its own.

Symptoms of Postnatal Depression

If you have PND, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms (not every woman will experience every symptom, nor will they experience them in a particular order or for a particular length of time).

  • Feeling down
  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • A lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
  • Feeling unable to cope
  • Feeling irritable or angry
  • Feeling guilty
  • Not enjoying activities or hobbies you previously used to enjoy
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Struggling to sleep at night, or sleeping excessively during the day
  • Problems concentrating or making decisions
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Having scary or intrusive thoughts (such as hurting yourself or your baby)

(It’s important to note that some of these are going to be experienced after having a baby whether you have PND or not – when a baby isn’t sleeping you will naturally feel tired, and when you are recovering from giving birth and exhausted you are highly unlikely to want to have sex! But if you feel it isn’t normal for you or for your situation, then please talk to your GP or Health Visitor).

What you can do if you think you may have Postnatal Depression?

Firstly, it’s important to remember that having PND doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong to cause it, that you’re weak, or that you’re less of a Mother because of it. It’s a common condition, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

It’s a good idea to talk to your GP or your Health Visitor if you think you may have PND (or call 111 or 999, or one of the other organisations on the I Need Help Now page of this website, if you feel you are going to hurt yourself or your baby now or very soon). They will likely ask you some questions using a short questionnaire like the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale to get a better idea of how you are feeling (you can answer the questions yourself here, but please be aware that this does not substitute for a professional diagnosis).

They may be able to refer you to a local counselling service in your area, or offer you some antidepressant medication (and there is nothing shameful about taking medication, and it doesn’t mean you’ll be on it forever either – but you should not feel pressured to take it if you don’t want to either). Your Health Visitor may be able to pop in from time to time for a ‘Listening Visit’, whereby you have someone you can talk to without having to leave the comfort of your own home.

There are some things you can do to help yourself as well, such as:

  • Getting out and about
    I know this can seem impossible with a baby, but even a walk to the local shops and back with baby in a pushchair or a sling can do wonders in making you feel like you’ve achieved something that day. If you feel like you can manage a bit longer, Day Out With The Kids is brilliant for ideas of child-friendly places to go.
  • Finding local baby groups and meet-ups
    These can be groups such as
    • Short courses you book in advance (such as baby massage – which is great for helping you bond with baby, or a music/singing group)
    • Drop-in groups that cost a few pounds (such as a baby sensory group, or a social group with tea and cakes!)
    • Buggy walks in the local park
    • Breastfeeding groups/cafes (if you breastfeed/express/combination feed)
    • Free groups or story-time run through your local children’s centre or library (Information for children’s centres and libraries are often found by going to the place itself and asking for a leaflet if you haven’t been given one by your Health Visitor – this could be one of your reasons to get out and about one day!)
    • Finding local activities (which you can filter by location, price, and age of your child) using the ‘Hoop’ app that you can download onto your smartphone
  • Meet local mums.
    I know, easier said than done, right? Sometimes asking to sit with the Mum sitting on her own at a baby group is a great way to meet someone new, but that can seem daunting for some. You can utilise technology instead!
    • Search for local ‘Mum’ Facebook groups and introduce yourself with a post saying you’re looking to meet other Mums
    • Use the ‘Mush’ app that you can download onto your smartphone to meet other Mums in your area (they also organise Mush Meet-ups if you don’t feel like you can message someone personally yet)
    • Sometimes Mothercare (if you have one nearby) hosts events for new Mums looking to meet other Mums – so it could be worth popping in!
  • Eat Healthy and Exercise.
    Whilst caffeine and chocolate are staple foods for a new Mum, it’s important to make sure you’re eating healthy foods containing vitamins, and drinking water, when you can as well. Exercise releases endorphins (happy hormones) and you don’t need to go to a gym – a walk round the block with the buggy, squats while the kettle is boiling, or lifting your baby up and down are easy and quick ways to get the endorphins flowing (But please make sure you have had your 6-week check and are cleared to exercise first).
  • Writing in a journal.
    It doesn’t have to be long and detailed, but sometimes just 5 or 10 minutes a day of getting your feelings out on to paper can be really therapeutic.
  • Try and fit in the things you enjoy.
    This could be reading a book or a magazine, watching your favourite soap, painting your nails, or (if you’re lucky enough to have a babysitter or your partner can watch the baby) popping out to get a massage, see some friends, or going to a local class.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
    If you have a partner or family and friends who are nearby and can help, ask if they can watch the baby while you have a shower or a nap. There’s no shame in admitting you’re tired or need to wash! Confide how you’re feeling in a trusted friend or family member, or with your GP, Health Visitor, or a qualified counsellor experienced in PND.

The take-home message here is that PND is relatively common, it doesn’t make you less of a Mother, and you can recover from it with the right support. You’ve got this!

If you are struggling with Postnatal depression and would like to book an appointment with me, please get in touch via the Book an Appointment page.

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