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Let’s talk about postnatal depression

What is postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression (PND) is a type of depression that affects parents after the arrival of a baby. It’s a surprisingly common issue that affects 1 in 10 new parents and occurs generally up to the first year of having a baby. While PND might be something lots of people associate with new mothers, it can in fact affect all parents, whatever their gender.

What are the symptoms of postnatal depression?

Everyone is different, so we all experience things in our own unique way. Here are just some common symptoms:

  • Sadness or low mood that doesn’t go away

  • Lack of enthusiasm for things you would previously have enjoyed

  • Lack of motivation

  • Not taking care of your physical needs

  • Isolating yourself from people with whom you would normally engage

  • Difficulty bonding with your baby

  • Distressing thoughts – for example, thoughts about hurting your baby*

  • Sleep difficulties

 

*Please remember that thoughts about hurting your baby can be really common and it doesn’t mean you will act on them. However if, you do feel like you want to act on these kinds of thoughts, reaching out to a GP, midwife, or health visitor can be useful to get the support you need.

It’s important to note that after having a baby, most people experience what is commonly known as “baby blues”. This is considered very common and is a period of a few days or sometimes weeks where there might be a distinct drop in mood. It can be helpful to know about this common period post birth but also be mindful that it can in some cases lead on to postnatal depression.

Postnatal depression is very different to this as it is prolonged and can last a lot longer. As it can come on very gradually and not always just after birth, it might also be something people don’t notice straight away or feel able to identify.

Other postnatal difficulties

It is also not unusual to experience anxiety – plus a whole range of other difficult emotions – after having a baby, no matter your circumstances, gender, age, and culture. After all, having a child is a big deal! It’s hardly surprising that it can trigger some big feelings, too.

However, in more extreme cases, new mothers might experience postpartum psychosis, which can cause people to feel disconnected from themselves and reality.

Symptoms include: rapid mood changes (ranging from very high highs to very low lows), extreme restlessness, hallucinations (experiencing things that others don’t) and delusions (believing things that others don’t). This is something very different to postnatal depression and other common postnatal difficulties and is considered both a serious mental health issue and a medical emergency. For more information on postpartum psychosis, the full range of symptoms, and where to get help and support, take a look at this NHS page.

The cause of postnatal depression

The cause is not clear and is still being researched all the time. But according to NHS, the following could be contributing factors:

  • A history of mental health problems, especially during pregnancy

  • Having no close family or friends to support you

  • A difficult relationship with your partner

  • Recent stressful life events, such as a bereavement

  • Physical or psychological trauma, such as domestic violence

  • Having the “baby blues”

*Please note that some people don’t experience any of these and still experience PND.

a mum and baby nose to nose

Here are some personal accounts of what it might feel like to be in the thrusts of postnatal depression.

*We have used pseudonyms for our contributors so that they can remain anonymous.

“When I had my son, I lived far away from my family and friends. I felt alone and isolated. I started to feel really low, but all the energy I had went into taking care of my baby. In a way, it felt like there was nothing left for me. One night, I was standing at the top of the stairs and I had thoughts of hurting myself. However, I didn’t actually want to hurt myself, it was more about doing something that would mean I would be taken care of emotionally and physically. I really needed to be heard, to be nurtured, and to be cared for. I didn’t act on those thoughts that night, but I remember it as a very significant moment.”
 Alice
“I had a lovely pregnancy, there were no issues with the birth, and I felt pretty relaxed about motherhood. So, it really took me by surprise when months later this dark fog appeared and I realised I wasn’t enjoying my baby as much as I thought I would. When other parents at baby groups would gush about how amazing it all was, I’d nod in agreement but the reality was that I just didn’t feel the same enjoyment. I didn’t recognise it to be PND at all and just put it down to tiredness or adjusting to being a new parent. I really felt the pressure to be a perfect parent, and every time I didn’t meet those expectations, I felt even more like a failure.”

Dee

“When my baby was born, she was poorly and needed to spend a few months in hospital. I stayed every day with her, but I also had an 18-month-old son at home. I went from being a very active mum with a toddler to living in a hospital room with very little sleep and struggling with breastfeeding. I became very isolated very quickly, dealing with all the feelings of a new mum while also having a son at home. I was unable to breastfeed or hold her due to her illness. This meant that the initial bond was not established. I felt like she was someone else’s baby, and I was just looking after her. When we finally came home, I just did not have the same feelings as I did for my son. When I first had him, I felt 100% love immediately and did everything for him. With my daughter, it wasn’t the same. As everyone was so concentrated on my daughter’s health, I didn’t think anyone noticed what was happening for me.”

Jennifer

Dealing with your experience alone?

Listening to all these personal accounts, the themes of guilt, shame, and isolation run through them all, despite the different generations in which they occurred.

And while all these parents eventually recovered, it makes us wonder what it would have been like if they had known someone like them in a similar position? Could their experiences have been different? Would they have felt less alone and isolated? We will never know for sure, but if you find yourself feeling this way, don’t forget that you are not alone.

Tips for anyone experiencing PND

We really wanted to share some tips from some those with lived experience of PND. Here’s what they had to say:

Tip #1: Remember you’re not the only one.

“Try to remember that there’s a whole community of people feeling the same. That 1 in 10 might be at the baby and toddler groups you go to, the weighing clinics you attend, the forums you visit at 3am when you can’t sleep. You are not alone. Which might be especially helpful if you don’t have support nearby. ”

Tip #2: Remember you’re still a good parent.

“Remember that postnatal depression isn’t about your ability to be a parent, and it’s something you can’t control. In fact, if it’s something you experience, you can be pretty sure that any amount of energy you do have will often go into taking care of your baby. That makes you a pretty great parent who is just going through a difficult time.”

Tip #3: Remember to take time for yourself.

“Don’t forget to make time for yourself. Whether it’s a cry in the bathroom, 10 minutes scrolling through your phone, or an uninterrupted shower, making time for yourself can give you that extra boost you need to feel okay. Remember, you are important, too. I wish I had put myself first, taking time out to look after my own health – to explore the guilt around what I was feeling and to remember that these feelings are shared by so many other parents.”

Tip #4: Remember there are people there to support you.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out for support. Not all professionals have the answers you want or need straight away, but perseverance can help you get the support you need and deserve. The best thing I ever did was tell my health visitor. My GP wasn’t that great, to be honest, as I guess it wasn’t his specialist field. I’m glad I tried again, because there are many people who don’t. With the health visitor, there was no judgement, just bags of empathy and all the support I needed. We often expect medical professionals to have all the answers first time round, but sometimes they don’t, so it’s about finding that professional who is right for us and who can help in the way we need.”

Tip #5: Remember that treatment and recovery can look different for everyone.

“Do what feels right for you and your family. I was eventually prescribed some antidepressants, which really helped as my PND was all-consuming. The medication wasn’t something to ‘fix the problem’ – and I realise it’s not for everyone – but for me, it simply helped to buoy me up long enough for me to take a breath before I didn’t need them anymore. That then gave me a real opportunity to find other ways to support myself. You can’t do that, sometimes, when you’re so consumed by it all.”

Life after PND

 

For those who have experienced postnatal depression, it might feel at the time that things will never change. But they certainly can, especially with the right support. Here’s what our experts had to say:

“Although going through PND was dark and lonely, I have come out with a son who is the pride and light of my life. PND is a bit like a “long haul flight: altogether too long, restrictive, uncomfortable, and something you could totally live without. But it’s just the journey, not your final destination.”

Despite our beginning, when my daughter started school, we suddenly just clicked. As she got older, we became closer and closer. She is very honest with me about everything in her life and shares all her ups and downs. We are incredibly close, and I love that.”

“I used to think I would never go on to have more children because of my experience. But I did. I luckily didn’t have PND the second time round, but what I did have is an awareness of what to look out for, a confidence in myself that I knew what I needed in terms of support, and coping mechanisms that I didn’t have the first time.”

“The bond I have with my child is really lovely. Our connection is deeper, in some ways, because we went on such a journey together. I find I appreciate her so much more after having come through such a dark time.”

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