One in ten mothers suffer from some form of depression or distress after having a baby while up to 70% will experience an emotional let down (however slight) at this time.
Having a baby is a time of great change so that new moms experience biological, physical, emotional and social changes. And all of these changes can cause those “baby blues” or the more serious postpartum depression. If you add stressful life events into the equation, there is even more reason for the baby blues and worse.
The time of great change
– when you have a baby, there are hormonal changes to your body and sometimes post natal depression may be linked to these. Rapid changes in hormone levels such as estrogens, progesterone and thyroid have a strong effect on our moods.
– when you have a baby, this can be a very exhausting process and sometimes there are actual physical problems such as post operative pain and recovery after a C-section. A mom might not make a quick recovery from this operation as having a new baby to care for can make it difficult to rest. If there are older children, they often react to a new baby by demanding even more attention from their mother so there is a never ending cycle of tiredness. If the mother has a poor appetite and is not eating a good, balanced diet, she can become physically run down. Some mothers lack self confidence and feel less attractive after giving birth while others will take special care over their own and their baby’s appearance to cover up their depression. They are good at hiding the depression by smiling and keeping up appearances. This can also be exhausting.
– a small percentage of new moms are disappointed to find that they do not feel very maternal when they first hold and care for their new baby. They were expecting to love their baby at first sight but instead feel tired and even detached. In spite of this initial reaction, they usually grow to love their baby over time. It is important not to worry or to be disappointed if the birth of your baby does not live up to your expectations – it is a very emotional time and the highs and the lows can both be extreme.
– when you have a baby, this can be a great upheaval in your life. A new baby makes it difficult to have an active social life and it is best not to even try! It is hard enough at this time for the baby’s parents to spend time together as a couple. Often new parents live far away from other family members who would have helped out. For a new mother - not to have her own mother for support and guidance can be very difficult. In addition, new mothers may have built up in their mind that having a new baby in the home would be a wonderful, glowing time and that everything would be rosy and perfect. Unfortunately, the opposite is often the case as giving birth can be very stressful and we have to learn motherhood often by trial and error just like any other new job in life. New mothers often feel quite isolated at home if they have been used to a career but should they decide to return to work, then the stress of both working and looking after a new baby can also be very problematic. It can be a no win situation.
Stressful Life Events
– sometimes something can happen at the same time as you give birth which can make a difficult time almost impossible to bear. This could be a death of someone close to you, financial problems or even the loss of your home.
You can imagine how terrible it has been for those new moms in Haiti who gave birth just before the earthquake or in the time since or for that matter during any other major disaster in the world. Lacking the very basic of amenities and supplies while probably suffering from the loss of family members and friends, or their own home and possessions, or a combination of everything, hardly bears thinking about. In such a situation, you wonder how they could even begin to function and carry on with their lives.
Depression after birth is not a character flaw or a sign of weakness
Sometimes it is simply part of giving birth and if you are depressed, prompt treatment can help you manage your symptoms and enjoy your new baby.
You might be feeling anxious; feeling sad; feeling tearful; having difficulty sleeping or feeling exhausted.
The more serious postpartum depression may show up in more intense and longer lasting signs and symptoms so that you feel you cannot function properly. These could be:
- Constant fatigue or insomnia
- Little or no enjoyment of life
- Feeling emotionally numb
- A feeling of failure
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Either a lack of concern for yourself or your baby, or excessive concern for your baby
- Less or no interest in sex
- Severe mood swings
- Lack of concentration or impaired thinking
- Change in appetite – either eating too little or too much
There is a rare form of postpartum depression which is called postpartum psychosis that develops within 6 weeks of having your baby. These signs and symptoms can be very severe and include
- Fear of harming yourself or your baby
- Confusion and disorientation
- Hallucinations and delusions
You might be surprised to read that postpartum depression can develop after the birth of any child and not just the first and it is actually more common in mothers after giving birth to their second baby.
A new born baby deserves to have a healthy mother, and mom deserves the chance to enjoy her baby and enjoy her life. So if you are experiencing symptoms of depression after giving birth, tell someone close to you so they can get help and treatment for you from your midwife or doctor.
Taking those first steps
- Accepting that there is something wrong and that you have a problem
- Talking to your husband or partner, or a friend or family member about how you are feeling
- Knowing that you will get better
Your doctor will take certain steps and these may include medication and/or therapy.
But there are other steps you can take to help yourself
- Try to get as much rest as you can. When baby naps, then you must nap too.
- Stop putting pressure on yourself to do everything. Do only what you can and leave the rest.
- Find someone you are comfortable with to talk to and tell them about your feelings. This can be your husband or partner, family member or friend.
- Establish a social support network so that friends and family members can help you with child care, household chores and errands. You need to find some time for yourself so you can rest.
- You also need to find time to do something for yourself – such as reading, exercising (a 15 minute walk will make all the difference) or having a good soak in the bath.
- Keeping a journal or diary will help you to express your emotions and feelings.
- Take it slowly – don’t try to do all the steps the first day – one step at a time and gradually increase the steps. If some days, you take a step backwards don’t let it upset you.
- Find a support group in your area – when you know there are others in the same boat, this can be quite a help and you can exchange experiences and help and support each other.
Exercise can be a great way to help you feel good about yourself
While nature has its own way of helping you to get your body back into shape over the next few weeks - your uterus will contract and help to flatten your tummy. If you are breastfeeding your baby, this process will be even quicker.
Once you are feeling up to it or even before, do start to think about some regular exercise or even a post natal exercise program. Some of the postnatal recommended exercises include: brisk walking, swimming, aquarobics, yoga, Pilates, low impact aerobic workouts, light weight training and/or cycling.
It is important for you to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and whether you have the baby blues or a more serious form of depression, this is something from which you will recover.