Many people have heard of the baby blues, this feeling of low mood, sadness, anxiety that may occur when most people are expecting to be on top of the world! You have just had a baby, but you feel miserable and that can be confusing and hard for many. Postpartum blues is really common and occurs for around 4/5 women. It’s hard to know exactly what is responsible for this feeling but it is thought that hormones play a massive role. The hormones that have been racing around the body of a pregnant women begin to change, they work to shrink your uterus, to promote lactation and fluctuate to accommodate the baby who is now outside the womb and not within. Obviously, you have also just had a baby; so exhaustion, pain for some, mixed and complex emotions around this new journey in life can also play a part.
The baby blues will typically begin from immediately after birth for some, especially if it has been a very difficult or stressful birth, to on average beginning around day 2/3 post birth. For most it will settle after about two weeks.
For some however, these feelings linger for much longer and are more severe. For these women, post-natal depression may be an issue.
What is it and how do I know if I have it?
Post-natal depression is more than just the baby blues. It is very common and can happen to anyone after having a baby. We do know that it is more common in women who have previously suffered from depression. About 1 in 8 women are thought to suffer from post-natal depression and there are definitely many women I have met who talk about the symptoms of depression that lingered for some time post delivery, but they did not seek help, so this statistic may indeed be higher.
Post Natal Depression is very hard as for many even the fact that they are feeling what they are feeling is leading to depression. So, giving themselves a hard time that they are not enjoying this moment, telling themselves they should be doing better, or feeling better. These thoughts on top of the existing symptoms can lead to increased severity of emotions. You might be reluctant to admit feeling down as maybe you view that as failing in some way; which is simply not the case but the mind and the thoughts it generates are very strong for many and hard to ignore.
The symptoms of post-natal depression can vary, but they tend to include the following;
· Feeling sad and lonely even when there are people around
· feeling angry, moody and irritable
· crying for no reason
· feelings of inadequacy
· feelings of vulnerability
· feeling out of control
· worrying about the baby excessively and finding it hard to leave the baby with
· not sleeping well
· feeling anxious
· difficulty with motivation
We know many can experience these feelings in the days after birth but when they last for more than two weeks and are severe enough to last most of the day, every day, it is worth seeking help.
It is very important to note that I have worked with many women who have been diagnosed or reported symptoms of Post Natal Depression, after a very traumatic/scary birth. Maybe the birth was scary for you and your baby, maybe your child ended up needing medical intervention. The symptoms of post traumatic stress after a birth trauma can mimic post-natal depression so it is important to consider if trauma could possibly be something that you experienced. There is a whole workshop on trauma post birth here Understanding Trauma of birth/medical intervention | Caterpillar Clinic (thecaterpillarclinic.com)
What can I do?
The best thing you can do if you feel you are experiencing symptoms of Post Natal Depression is to talk to your maternity hospital or GP as soon as possible. Do not wait to see if it will pass as often support you receive can lead to instant lifting of these symptoms.
The maternity hospital can typically provide some psychological support through the mental health team, or your GP may also be aware of local psychological supports available. Some women also choose to take medication alongside their psychological therapy.
Often it is just about making sense of the thoughts you have in your head and the feelings that exist in your body and finding ways to manage both, to lower the intensity of the symptoms and begin to feel more in control and more present in that early journey with your baby. Do not suffer in silence, there is so much help available and my experience with women is often even one or two sessions things begin to lift and they begin to understand what is occurring for them.
It is also worth noting that if your infant is very hard to settle for whatever reason, this can lead to an increased activation in your stress response system; which can lead to ongoing feelings of anxiety and knock on effects on your mood, so if your baby is hard to settle it is worth seeking some support for this. The midwives and GP can advise on factors that might be causing your baby some distress.