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About Post-Natal Depression

This week marks Maternal Health Awareness Week, so we’re going to take a closer look at post-natal depression (PND).


First of all, what is it?


Having a baby is a huge, life-changing event that generates powerful emotions: everything from joy and excitement to worry and fear. Combined with the physical changes in hormones during and post-pregnancy, it’s not surprising that it can feel like an emotional roller coaster. Not only are you recovering from a physical ordeal, but you are now grappling with a task you haven’t been trained for, while being sleep-deprived: overwhelming is most definitely an understatement.


It’s very normal to feel a bit low and teary for around two weeks after giving birth. This is known as ‘baby blues’, and usually passes quickly, once your body adjusts to changing levels of hormones and you start to feel a little more settled in your new role. However, if these symptoms last longer or worsen, or start later than this initial two-week period, then you may be experiencing post-natal depression.


The causes of PND are unique to each individual. A major influencing factor is likely to be your past mental health – if you have experienced mental health issues in the past, it’s possible that the challenging nature of being pregnant and having a baby could trigger those issues to happen again (although it is absolutely not guaranteed). It could be a lack of support or stressful living conditions at such a demanding time, negative experiences in your own childhood, or physical changes in hormones. Or more likely, a combination of all of these things.


It’s worth noting that it‘s possible to experience ante-natal depression, which occurs while pregnant. It’s also possible for men (or the non-pregnant partner) to experience symptoms of PND. Only those who have given birth in the last year can be officially diagnosed with post-natal depression, but partners can also feel the symptoms of depression, often compounded by lack of sleep and extra responsibility and pressures.



What does it feel like?


Post-natal depression is similar to depression, in that you may feel sad or low, be unable to enjoy things that usually give you pleasure, feel hopeless or despairing, be tired all the time or lacking energy, lacking concentration, or experience low self-esteem and low confidence. You might also feel numb, unable to relate to others, or have a sense that things aren’t real.


In addition, you may find it difficult to bond with the baby, perhaps feeling hostile or detached, or you might feel guilty and selfish for not feeling full of joy. You may even have thoughts of wanting to harm the baby or yourself. Feeling like this can be scary, but it doesn’t mean you’re actually going to hurt them.


The important thing is to get help as soon as you notice symptoms.



What help is available?


The good news is that the health system is well-prepared to provide support for PND. If you notice symptoms in yourself or your partner, the most vital thing is to tell someone. Your midwife or health visitor is a good place to start – they will regularly talk to you about how you are feeling, and it’s important to be honest with them. You can also tell your GP, your partner, a family member or a friend – anyone that you can talk to about your thoughts and emotions.


Admitting that you are finding things difficult can be daunting, but it does not mean that you are a bad parent, or that anyone will take your baby away from you. What it does mean is that you will be helped to access the support you need.


Support ranges from medication, talking therapy or specialist perinatal mental health teams who are trained to provide expert support. If you are suffering severe symptoms, there are also mother and baby units in psychiatric hospitals, where your baby will stay with you while you get treatment and support.


In milder cases, a strong support network can be enough to help. Finding other parents close by who have babies of a similar age can be a lifeline of emotional and practical support.


It’s important to remember that PND can happen to anyone - it’s not your fault, and you’re not alone. Part of being a good parent is ensuring that you are fit and well enough to take care of the baby – you can’t look after them properly if you don’t look after yourself. Asking for help is a sign of strength, and means you are doing the best for your baby.

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