Postpartum Depression, also known as Postnatal Depression is a type of depression experienced by women after giving birth. It is not to be confused with the ‘baby blues’ which are normal feelings of tearfulness that approximately 85% of women experience within three to ten days of having a baby. Postpartum Depression is a deeper and more intense depression which does not lift. It is extremely common and affects around one in ten women. It can start anytime within the first six months after birth and affects women regardless of age, race, income level and cultural background. About a third of women show signs of PD in pregnancy which continue after the birth. PD can appear gradually, or suddenly and symptoms can range from very mild to severe.

Postpartum Depression has many symptoms including

  • very low mood
  • anxiety, which can be overwhelming
  • feeling unable to cope
  • difficulty sleeping
  • feeling irritable and angry
  • feeling worthless and hopeless
  • extreme guilt
  • feelings of hostility towards your partner or baby
  • lack of interest in sex
  • reduced appetite
  • thoughts and feelings of wanting to harm yourself or your baby
  • Psychotic thoughts
What is Postpartum Depression? A baby boy yawning.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum Depression occurs for a variety of reasons, although there are certain risk factors which increase the likelihood of developing it, including:

  • The pregnancy being unplanned, or having mixed feelings about it
  • Changes in hormone levels during and after pregnancy
  • A difficult or traumatic delivery
  • An emergency or premature delivery
  • Illness or birth defects in the baby
  • Using drugs or alcohol during the pregnancy and after birth

Lack of support after the birth has been shown to have a huge impact on your chances of developing Postpartum Depression, with young single mothers being particularly at risk. Poverty and poor living conditions can also cause stress and anxiety about providing for your baby. Prior experiences of mental health difficulties can also increase your risk and if you suffered from Postpartum Depression with previous births, there is a high chance you will develop it again. Major life experiences happening at the same time as childbirth can also trigger it, such as moving house, losing a job, bereavement or illness.

It’s important to remember though that Postpartum Depression can start for no reason at all and can happen even if the baby was planned and everything is going well.

Not all women with PD recognise that they have it and many are reluctant to admit their feelings for fear of being labelled a bad mother. Sometimes it can be difficult to admit you are struggling amidst expectations that having a baby is supposed to be a happy time. Many mothers worry that if they admit how they feel, their baby will be taken away. Postpartum Depression is an illness however and it’s important to remember that it can be treated successfully. The first step is to see your doctor and ask for help, they will then diagnose you by assessing your mood and symptoms. The earlier you get help and treatment, the better your chances of recovery will be. Left untreated, Postpartum Depression can last for months or years. However, it is also never too late to seek treatment and support. Even if you have been depressed for a long time, it is possible to recover.

You should pursue help if you experience any of the following:

  • You develop symptoms of depression
  • You are unable to care for yourself or your baby
  • Your ‘baby blues’ do not go away after 2 weeks and your depression becomes more intense
  • It is hard to perform tasks at work or at home
  • You have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby (seek urgent help from your doctor)
  • You develop thoughts which are not based in reality, or you hear and see things that other people don’t (seek urgent help from your doctor)

There are many different kinds of treatment and support available including prescribed medication, talking therapy and self-help options. For severe Postpartum Depression and symptoms of psychosis, you may need to stay in hospital or a mother and baby unit. Medications can include anti-depressants, sleeping tablets and tranquillisers. All medications carry the risk of side effects, so it’s important to discuss these thoroughly with your doctor. There is also a risk that some medications may enter breast milk, so your doctor will weigh up the benefits and risks to your baby. There may be a period of trial and error involved in taking medications too. You might need to wait several weeks to see an improvement in your mood and you should also be prepared to change medications if a particular type doesn’t work for you.

Talking therapies can include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, (CBT) Counselling and Psychotherapy. You may also be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist depending on the level and severity of your Postpartum Depression. CBT is currently a popular treatment option as it is short-term and offers a practical approach to dealing with your difficulties. Counselling or Psychotherapy is a more in-depth treatment which involves looking at yourself, your childhood and your life experiences in more detail to see if there are any underlying causes for your illness.

There are also lots of different self-help options which can help you feel better and take control of Postpartum Depression. Reaching out to friends and family and asking for practical and emotional support can be crucial in managing the difficulties of looking after a newborn baby. You could also try the following tips:

  • Rest whenever you can and also when the baby is sleeping
  • Ask for help with housework, shopping, cooking and other chores
  • Meet other new parents; if it is too difficult to get out and join parent and baby groups, there are lots of online resources and forums such as Sharing your experiences with other people going through the same thing can help you feel less alone.
  • Try to take some time for yourself every day if you can. It’s just as important to look after yourself and your own needs as well as your baby’s. This can be doing something as simple as taking a candlelit bath or watching a favourite TV show.
  • Don’t try to be ‘superwoman’, having unrealistic expectations of yourself at this time can add to feelings of stress.

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