Beyond the Baby Blues - Post Natal Depression
About half of all mothers experience the baby blues – a few days (or less) of feeling weepy, stressed and overwhelmed. This is often called ‘three-day blues’ although it is common throughout the first few weeks. It is probable that there are both hormonal causes (the arrival of milk on Day 3 undoubtedly is involved for some women) and psychological ones: the birth of a baby is one of the big events of a woman ‘s life and brings with it significant emotional and psychological change. ‘Baby Blues’ sounds delightful, and while it is not that, neither is it a serious problem. Being encouraged to cry, getting rid of overwhelming visitors, one good block of sleep and lots of TLC will see most of us through it. It is not post-natal depression.
Post-natal Depression (PND) is a much more serious problem, although there are significant differences in the severity of individuals’ experience. PND is typically identified at around three months post baby, and can last a year or more. It can completely disrupt the sufferer’s life and their family’s lives. The most common symptoms are:
- Being often sad, rarely laughing, crying easily and avoiding other people
- Feeling you are the only mother who can not cope
- Feeling a failure, and guilty that you are failing your baby
- Feeling anxious, panicky, even about world problems that you can’t influence
- Coping with a crying baby can seem totally beyond you
- Feeling that you have no energy, small tasks seem insurmountable
- Having little appetite for food
- Endlessly craving sleep, or finding that restful sleep eludes you
- Having obsessive and illogical fears for the baby’s health
- Lying in bed in the early morning dreading the day to come
- Having no interest in things that once gave you pleasure
- Finding it impossible to make decisions
Any or all of these symptoms may suggest PND.
As can be imagined this is a horrible experience. However, it is important to know that it is an illness, and not a character flaw or a sign of a weak person. (Some of the strongest characters have suffered from depression – Churchill and Esther Rantzen to name but two!)
The most important thing to do if you think you are suffering in this way is to get help quickly
What help is available?
Different individuals respond well to different therapies
- Having someone who understands to talk to
- Getting practical help and company in the house
- Hormone therapy can help some women (oestrogen or progesterone)
- Anti-depressant drugs be useful in lifting the mood long enough for you to sort out problems. There are anti-depressants, which are compatible with breast-feeding. They do not have the addictive problems associated with sedatives, but it can take a little time for them to ‘kick in’
Who can help?
- Your GP
- Your Health Visitor (she has been specially trained to look out for PND)
- Your family and friends. PND sufferers often feel relief in admitting their distress
- The Association for Post Natal Illness (0207 386 0868)
- MIND (08457 660 163)
- Cognitive Behaviour Therapy has been successful in treating PND
Remember that different things help different people; if one approach doesn’t help try another. Research shows that women with PND always recover, but with help they can do so in two weeks rather than two years.
Most women don’t suffer PND, (approx. 90% do not), but if you suspect a friend or relative is ill, encourage her to ask for help.
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