For most women it passes quickly;for others, professional help is needed. Postnatal depression is most common after the first pregnancy.
Symptoms depend on the severity
Around one in eight mothers develop postnatal depression (PND). It can happen either a few days or weeks after the birth, with a slow or sudden onset. Some women may even experience depression during the pregnancy (this is called antenatal depression). The range of symptoms experienced depends on the severity of the depression, and may include:
- Low self-esteem and lack of confidence
- Feelings of inadequacy and guilt
- Negative thoughts
- Feeling that life is meaningless
- Feeling unable to cope
- Tearfulness and irritability
- Difficulty sleeping or changes in sleeping patterns
- Low sex drive
- Anxiety, panic attacks or heart palpitations
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
The exact causes of PND are still not known. Some contributing factors might include:
- Physical changes – even a relatively easy birth is an overwhelming experience for the female body. In addition, the sudden drop in pregnancy hormones affects brain chemicals (neurotransmitters). Broken sleep and exhaustion can also contribute to depression.
- Emotional changes – adapting to parenthood is daunting. The new mother has to deal with the constant demands of a baby, a different dynamic to her relationship with her partner and the loss of her own independence. Such changes would be hard at the best of times, but are even more overwhelming when a woman is still physically recovering from childbirth and coping with broken sleep.
- Social changes – society puts lots of demands and expectations on a new mother, which a woman may feel she needs to live up to. She may find herself less able to keep up contact with her friends and workmates. Adapting to living on one wage may also be difficult.
Postpone any major life decisions
Postnatal depression can put an enormous strain on any relationship, even when the partner is patient, loving and supportive. It isn’t unusual for a couple battling PND to think that their relationship has soured beyond repair. Generally, this is not the case, since most relationships return to normal once the depression lifts. It is a good idea to postpone any major life decisions while in the grip of PND.
The relationship with the baby
A woman with PND tends to withdraw from everyone, including her baby. This is a symptom of the disorder and doesn’t mean that she is a ‘bad’ mother. Some people think that bonding between the mother and child has to happen within the first few days or weeks of birth, or else it won’t happen at all. This is not true. Their relationship is an ongoing process. Once the depression lifts, themother will be able to once again feel her full range of emotions and start to enjoy her baby. In the meantime, she might need some extra help and support from family and friends.