Childbirth is one of the biggest life changes a woman can experience. Bringing a new baby into the family can be challenging at the best of times, both physically and emotionally. It is natural for new parents to experience mood swings, feeling joyful one minute and depressed the next. These feelings are sometimes known as the “baby blues,” and often go away soon after birth. However, some parents may experience a deep and ongoing depression that lasts much longer. This is called postnatal depression.
Is it just part of childbirth?
Postnatal depression is a serious mental illness that involves the brain and affects your behavior and physical health. One in five women will experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or within a year after giving birth.
If you have depression it is common to feel sad, flat, or an empty feeling that is persistent which can interfere with your daily. You might feel a disconnection to your baby, as if you are not the baby’s mother, or you might not love or care for the baby. These feelings can be mild to severe. Most women get the “baby blues,” or feel sad or empty, within a few days of giving birth. For many women, the baby blues go away in 3 to 5 days. If your baby blues don’t go away or you feel sad, hopeless, or empty for longer than 2 weeks, you may have postnatal depression.
What symptoms you should look out for
Normal hormonal changes after pregnancy can cause symptoms similar to those of depression. If you have any of the following symptoms of depression for more than 2 weeks, call your doctor, nurse, or midwife:
- Feeling restless, moody, sad and depressed
- Having headaches, aches and pains, or stomach problems that don’t go away
- Excessive crying
- Having memory problems
- Having thoughts of hurting the baby or yourself
- Not having any interest in the baby, not feeling connected to the baby, or feeling as if your baby is someone else’s baby
- Having no energy or motivation
- Eating and/or sleeping too little or too much
- Having trouble focusing or making decisions
- Feeling worthless, guilty, or like a bad mother
- Losing interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Choosing to be alone
If you experience these symptoms there are many tools to help balance your new lifestyle change. Professional counseling can help. You may need to share with someone or “vent” outside of your support group in an uncritical environment. Twenty five percent of women with postnatal depression seek psychiatric treatment. This may be part of your recovery plan but you will also need support and practical help from your partner, family and friends. There are also many online forums and support groups which can help with emotional coping mechanisms.
Drug treatment for postnatal depression usually involves anti-depressant medication. If you use them correctly, anti-depressant medications are not addictive. It can take up to two or more weeks for you to feel that the medication is working. If you become pregnant, or are planning to become pregnant, it’s important to think about how you can manage your mental health during this time. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible. They will be able to help you make plans to manage your mental health during pregnancy.