Postnatal Depression – What Every New Mama Should Know
The transition to motherhood is exciting but also very challenging, and it can be even harder if you’re dealing with postnatal depression as well.
Postnatal depression, also called postpartum depression, affects almost 15% of women after giving birth.
It occurs in first time mothers as well women who have given birth before.
In this blog, we take a look into what postnatal depression is, the signs to look for and the ways it can be treated.
What is postnatal depression?
Most new mothers expect to experience the baby blues in the first week or so after giving birth. Up to 80% of new mums feel sad, tired or emotional for a few days in those first weeks.
Dealing with sleep deprivation, getting breastfeeding going, and all the hormone shifts that are happening contribute to these wobbly baby blues moments.
It’s absolutely normal and will usually pass in a few weeks.
While the symptoms are very similar, postnatal depression is different from the baby blues in that it’s a lot more intense and lasts far longer. Postnatal depression causes severe mood swings, a sense of hopelessness and even thoughts of self harm.
The intensity of these feelings can make it very hard for you to care for yourself, let alone your baby.
What causes postnatal depression?
We don’t know what causes postnatal depression in women but it’s thought there are both physical and emotional triggers.
After birth, your body experiences a dramatic hormonal drop, such as progesterone, estrogen and thyroid hormones. Lack of sleep and poor nutrition can also contribute to physically triggers that lead to postnatal depression.
Becoming a mother is a huge emotional change in itself! Challenges with breastfeeding, feeling isolated, being overwhelmed for the responsibility for this tiny human. These contribute to feeling incapable of coping with even small setbacks.
It’s not unusual for new mothers to feel anxious and worried they can’t take care of their newborn, or to struggle with their identity in the first weeks and months after birth. There is also a lot of external pressure on new mums to bounce back after birth and this definitely doesn’t help.
Research from around the world has found women with the following risk factors increase the chances they’ll experience PND:
A personal or family history of either depression or anxiety
A traumatic birth experience, such as an unexpected c-section, premature birth, prolonged labour, lack of support during labour
Having relationship problems, either with your partner or extended family
Domestic and family violence, including physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse
Past history of any type of abuse
Stressful life events such as divorce, death of loved ones, moving house, job loss
Complications during pregnancy, such as severe morning sickness, concerns about baby’s development
Previous fertility issues or pregnancy loss or stillbirth
Social isolation, not having family or friends available for support
When do you get PND?
Usually a new mum will experience signs of postnatal depression within the first three months after giving birth. Some will develop PND earlier and others can later, up to 12 months after giving birth.
If you have any of the symptoms outlined below that last for longer than 2 weeks, please see your trusted healthcare professional.
What are the signs of PND?
The baby blues tend to arrive a few days after you give birth and often are described as having wobbly emotions, going from sad and irritated to being overwhelmed and unfocused all in the space of an hour.
It’s normal to have these mood swings as your body adjusts to hormonal changes. It’s also normal to not have the baby blues!
But if your symptoms are intense, last longer and start to interfere with your daily life and ability to care for your baby, then you could have developed postnatal depression.
Low or depressed mood
Severe mood swings, irritability and anger
Excessive crying or sadness
Withdrawing from family and friends
A loss of appetite or eating more than usual
Sleeping too much or not enough
Difficulty bonding with your baby (feeling you can’t take care of them, they should be with another carer)
No interest in any of the activities you previously enjoyed
Feeling worthless, guilty or ashamed
Panic attacks or severe anxiety
Brain fog, unable to concentrate or make decisions
Feeling afraid to go out or be alone
Not caring for yourself
Thinking of harming yourself or your baby
Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
Untreated postnatal depression can continue to get worse over time. So it’s very important you seek support and help as soon as possible.
How do you treat PND?
Seeking support as soon as possible is the first and vital step to treating postnatal depression. Often new mums feel embarrassed or ashamed because they’re afraid of being judged for not coping.
Postnatal depression has nothing to do with how you are coping with new motherhood.
It’s a mental health condition which you have no control over. There are many people you can ask for help if you suspect you have postnatal depression. These include:
Your GP, obstetrician or midwife
Your child and family health nurse
Psychologist who specialise in postnatal depression (Australian Psychological Society)
PANDA 1300 726 306
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Recognising postnatal depression is your lived reality is the first step towards treating it. Your doctor will work with you to come up with a treatment plan specific to your situation, age, as well as how severe your depression is.
Some treatment options include:
Psychological therapy, involving therapies to help you manage feelings of depression and coping strategies
Antidepressant medication, safe to use while breastfeeding, and can help in combination with other strategies
Hospital admission, if thoughts of self harm, suicide or harming your baby occur. Seek immediate help at your nearest emergency hospital department if you feel this way.
Natural remedies for PND
Treating postnatal depression holistically is an option many women prefer, as it can enhance the effects of all treatment options, rather than relying on just one.
Don’t underestimate the benefits of exercise as a mood enhancer. Regular exercise increases endorphins – feel good hormones that lift your mood and energy levels. It can also help you to sleep better at night.
Yoga is also an amazing way to cherish your mind and body, allowing space to centre yourself, to manage any stresses and anxieties.
Nutrition is incredibly important in the postnatal period as your body recovers from the workload of growing your baby and giving birth. But it can feel like a big ask to prepare fresh food every day, and much easier to opt for quick, packaged snacks or meals.
Try planning ahead and having healthy snacks prepped, such as fresh vegetables cut up, dips or nut butters, fruit and yoghurts. Your partner can take on meal preparation or check out meal delivery services to take the pain out of trying to decide what to have for dinner.
The days can really start to drag when you’re home alone all the time with a new baby. Stay connected to family and friends or find a community you can be a part of. Having others to lean on when things are hard is vitally important and we know social isolation increases the challenges of motherhood. Having others to talk to can really make a big difference in how you cope with PND.
You can meet up in person or find a suitable mothers group online. Nurtured Birth offers online mothers’ group sessions to support and nurture new mamas. Be sure to read 5 Reasons To Join A Mums & Bubs Group too.
Self care is a much used phrase these days and often the burden of creating that time is placed on mothers, who sacrifice their own emotional wellbeing in favour of family.
But looking after yourself is an important tool in treating postnatal depression. It doesn’t have to be a day spa (although go for it if you can!). You can choose to leave the baby with a trusted person for an hour or so and go for a walk or coffee catch-up with a friend, or even a weekly massage appointment. However you choose to focus just on you, make sure you do!
Practical support with household chores or taking care of the baby is another option that gives you space and time to recharge and rest. It’s hard to relax when the baby is sleeping and you often spend that time feeling guilty about all the things you ‘should’ be doing instead.
Organise to have some help with those chores so you can rest when you need to. If you have trusted family or friends to help, reach out – or look into hiring a postnatal doula to help for a while.
Postnatal depression is treatable and most women who seek support will see their symptoms improve within six months. Treatment benefits you, your baby and your family.
Nurtured Birth offers a range of services that can support you and your family through postnatal depression. Please contact us for more information.