What can I do about postnatal depression?

What is postnatal depression?

Most parents rank having a baby as the most life changing event they experience and many find parenthood rewarding. However postnatal depression is more common than we think. One in seven mothers suffer from it.

At a time in their lives when new mothers should be falling in love with their babies some women find it difficult to bond with their new baby. They may be exhausted and disillusioned and feel totally overwhelmed by this new bundle of life which is completely dominating their every thought, feeling and action.

Other common symptoms of postnatal depression are:

  • constant exhaustion
  • inability to sleep even when you are exhausted
  • crying for no reason
  • forgetting things
  • thinking you can not cope with the baby and every day tasks
  • excessive anxiety and worry.

Postnatal depression often goes undiagnosed because the mother just assumes she is meant to feel out of sorts and exhausted for some time after the birth. However there are some factors which may impact on the seriousness of the postnatal depression.

The mother may have had a recent loss or bereavement which she has not had time or chance to process. The feelings of anxiety, disappointment, guilt or helplessness about the new baby may bring up the unprocessed feelings about the earlier loss. This can then intensify the feelings of depression the mother feels.

Statistics show that if a woman has had postnatal depression with an earlier baby then she may be more likely to experience it with following births. Also if the mother has had a previous psychiatric illness then she may be more likely to suffer from postnatal depression in the future.

How do I know if I have it?

If you think this may sound like what's happening to you, a partner, or friend then there is a useful short multiple choice test which you can take called The Edinburgh Test. This test is used to diagnose postnatal depression by asking you how you have been feeling over the past week. It is very easy to complete and if your results show you may be at risk of postnatal depression then it is something very useful which you can take along to discuss with your doctor. An example of an Edinburgh test can be found at:

www.fresno.ucsf.edu/pediatrics/downloads/edinburghscale.pdf

What can I do about postnatal depression?

If these feelings and symptoms continue for longer than two weeks then it really is best to go to your doctor and get checked out. There could be another purely medical reason that is causing you to feel like this such as an underactive thyroid or anaemia.

If the doctor rules out any medical issues then he or she may prescribe antidepressants for you and/or short term counselling on the NHS. Some women only need short term help to get back on their feet whilst others may need more ongoing support. It's important to remember that postnatal depression can happen to any new mother and it is certainly not your fault.

Self-help ideas

Here are a few practical ideas which you can try that may alleviate your depression and make you feel more like your old self again.

  • Exercise - regular physical activity is proven to relieve depression. Work out to a fun DVD in front of the TV (assuming you haven't had a C-section and the doctor says you are fit enough for exercise).

  • Sleep - whenever your baby sleeps. 

  • Be kind to yourself - give yourself a break from the housework. 

  • Mindfulness - download a short meditation task to still your mind and find some calm.

  • Accept support - welcome support from friends and family and/or your health visitor. 

  • Find support - join your local National Childbirth Trust (NCT) group or perhaps see what your nearby children's centre offers. Consider using forums and websites like www.netmums.com. 

  • Avoid isolation - be brave and chat with other new mums whenever you come across them out and about, spend some quality time with your partner if you have one, pick up the phone and have a catch up with an old friend

  • Go outside - take yourself and the baby out of the house into the fresh air every day. 

  • Be prepared - keep a change bag by the door ready so that you can get out easily. 

The good news is that the majority of women with postnatal depression recover fully within three to six months.

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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Written by Alexandra Peet MBACP

Welcome! My name is Alexandra Peet. I work with individuals who seek support in their anxiety, isolation, loneliness, depression, self-esteem, loss and grief. I also work with relationship issues such as difficulties in relationships, abuse, work-related stress, family and parenting challenges.
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