Post-Natal Depression: Help and Treatment

For many mothers having a baby can be an exciting and fulfilling experience, even with the considerable changes this brings to their lives. This is not the case for everyone, however. Some mothers may feel depressed and anxious, both during pregnancy and after birth.

If you are feeling this way you are not alone. Current statistics suggest that between 70,000 - 100,000 women suffer from Post-Natal Depression in the UK each year. The symptoms of PND can be very distressing but they can also be treated and alleviated very effectively by counselling.

What is Post Natal Depression?

PND is different from the “Baby Blues”. “Baby Blues” affects 80% of women after birth and lasts for a few days. With “Baby Blues” you may feel emotional, burst into tears often and feel irritable or anxious and depressed. If you feel depressed, however, and this lasts for longer than the first two weeks then it is a good idea to seek help.

PND usually begins 2-8 weeks after giving birth, sometimes with no warning, although you may possibly have been experiencing some depression during pregnancy too. With PND, you can experience various symptoms which include feeling low and despondent and that you can't cope with your baby. You may be confused by simple tasks and feel unable to concentrate. You may experience recurring or insistent thoughts that you cannot get out of your mind. Many mothers feeling this way blame themselves and feel guilty. You may feel very upset or anxious and worry about your health and your baby’s health, or you may feel boredom, indifference or frustration towards your baby. You may wish you had never had your baby. Panic attacks and irritability are also common. You may also have a poor appetite and problems sleeping in addition to disruption from night feeds. These symptoms can leave you feeling frightened and isolated.

Getting Help

It can be difficult, if you are feeling depressed, to ask for or to accept help. It can be very common to feel self-critical, that you “should” be able to cope on your own, or to compare yourself unfavourably with other mothers who appear to you to be managing “better”. It can also seem hard and sometimes frightening when you are feeling this way to open up and let others know about it. It is very important though, if you think you are suffering from PND, to get the support you need.

It can be really helpful to discuss your experience in counselling. You will be in a situation where you can be open about what is happening to you and how you are feeling. You will be supported by your counsellor in expressing and understand your feelings and your experience of being a mother and to see a more positive way forward through the difficulty.

Family and friends also need to be very understanding. Although the illness is very treatable in counselling, you will benefit from help and support during recovery. Everyone around you needs to accept that you are unwell and they need to treat you as if you had a physical illness - this is not something you can be chivvied out of.

Rest will also help recovery, so let family and friends take on as many of the everyday jobs that you can give up. But when you are feeling better, do as much as you want to. It's common to have bad and good days as you start to recover with this illness.
If you hate being left alone, ask family and friends to try and organise for someone to be with you for much of the time. Physical contact from a partner in the form of hugging and cuddling can also be very reassuring - especially if, as many women experience after childbirth, the sexual side of your relationship has been affected.

Helping yourself

Remember that this time of stress does not last forever. As well as counselling, here are some things you can do to make it easier on yourself:

• Share your worries with your partner, family or friends.
• Seek support from your health visitor or GP
• Eat regular meals and nutritious snacks.
• Try to get plenty of rest. If you can’t sleep when your baby sleeps then lie down on the bed for a while. Just physically resting will help.
• Make each day as simple as possible: set simple daily goals.
• Put off the hard jobs and accept or ask for help, no matter how small the job.
• Get out of the house for some time every day (e.g. take your baby for a walk).
• Try to have some regular child care to allow some time to yourself. Even half an hour can make a difference.
• Keep some special time for you and your partner every day.
• Make the effort to talk to a friend at least once a week.
• Give yourself a treat once in a while, no matter how small.

Useful Resources

Association for Post-Natal Illness, 25 Jerdan Place, London SW6 1BE; tel: 020 7386 0868; provide advice, information and support by phone, post and e-mail for mothers with PND.

“The National Childbirth Trust Book of Postnatal Depression” by Heather Welford, Thorsons, UK, 1988, a useful book offering practical guidance and case studies of PND.

Coping with Postnatal Depression by Fiona Marshall, Sheldon Press, 1993 provides useful information on how to cope when ill.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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