Understanding Postnatal Depression
Think you know about postnatal depression, or the baby blues? Learn the differences, the symptoms, and what to do if you think you may be affected. After all, in the days and months after giving birth, most mums experience mood swings. So it's important to recognise the signs, and to welcome all the support you can get whether from friends, family, or professionals.
These are generally divided into three categories:
- Baby blues
- Postnatal depression
- Puerperal psychosis
The ‘baby blues‘ affect nearly every new mom, whether it’s their first or subsequent child. Two to four days after giving birth, it is very normal to have crying spells, feelings of irritability, weariness and loneliness. Get as much rest as you can (easier said than done!) and seek support from your partner, family and friends. For most women, the baby blues pass within a week or two.
Postnatal depression may affect up to 1 in 7 new mothers, although the figures are probably much higher, as many women who experience mild postnatal depression may not realise they have it and put their bad moods down to lifestyle changes and the challenges of adjusting to a new baby.
Symptoms can start as the ‘baby blues’ in the days after delivery, or develop later, and are often most obvious four to six months after giving birth.
Signs of postnatal depression include:
- Irritability, often for no reason
- Anxiety about how you are coping, or about your baby
- Panic attacks – the symptoms include sweating hands, thumping heart and nausea
- Sleep problems – you might find it hard to sleep, even though you are exhausted
- Tiredness and lethargy – you might feel unable to tackle even the smallest task and feel constantly tired
- Lack of concentration, feelings of distractedness or confusion
- Changes in appetite – you may lose all interest in food, or turn to comfort eating
- Tearfulness and frequent crying for reasons that are not always clear
- Obsessive behaviour – trying to keep your home or appearance immaculate and maintain high standards at all times, or you might become obsessed with your baby’s health.
This is a very extreme, and thankfully very rare, form of postnatal mood change.
According to the HSE, it affects 1 in 500 mothers and begins soon after birth. Symptoms include restlessness, confusion and insomnia. It can result in a mom losing contact with reality, and usually requires hospital care.
How to start feeling better
Some women find it harder to ask for help than others, but if you have any concerns about your feelings and mood after having a baby, the following steps can help:
- Talk to your GP or public health nurse
- Find out about support networks in your area or online
- Counselling can help – about 25% of women with postnatal depression seek psychiatric treatment
- Try to get some rest, even cat naps can help. Express milk so your partner can help with night feeds
- Accept help with housework, babysitting, cooking or anything else that is consuming your time
- Eat well, drink lots of water and get some exercise (pushing the buggy around the park counts)
- Even if you don’t feel like it, organise to do something with a good friend
Help is available
Remember, postnatal depression is a temporary illness – you will get better, but you should get some help.
The following organisations can offer support:
Postnatal Depression Ireland, 021 492 3162; pnd.ie
Cuidiu- Irish Childbirth Trust, 01 872 4501; cuidiu-ict.ie
Aware, 1890 30 33 02; aware.ie
Grow, 1890 47 44 74; grow.ie
Samaritans 24hr listening service, 1850 60 90 90; samaritans.org