Overcoming post-natal depression

Having a baby is an emotional rollercoaster and our society has made women think they have to be up, fit and ready ‘to lunch’ before they have physically recovered from the birth of their baby or babies.  It is often not explained to new parents that it is normal to feel drained, overwhelmed, confused and vulnerable in the early days and weeks.  While the antenatal care is efficient in London, there is still a big gap in postnatal services leaving women vulnerable to postnatal depression.

‘Even the smallest task felt monumental.

The fogginess would set in, everything was black’

Quote from a new mum suffering from PND

It is estimated that around one in ten mothers become clinically depressed. Postnatal depression usually develops in the first four to six weeks after childbirth, although in some cases it may not develop for several months. Symptoms can include some or all of the following:

  • A persistent feeling of sadness and low mood

  • A loss of interest in the things you used to enjoy

  • Lack of energy and feeling tired all the time

  • Feeling like you can’t cope or are a failure

  • Strong feelings of anxiety or guilt

  • Loss of appetite

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Finding it hard to make decisions

Postnatal depression is different from puerperal psychosis, a serious mental illness often needing psychiatric treatment and possibly a hospital stay. This condition is rare, affecting only one or two mothers in every 1,000, and most commonly occurs in the first month after having a baby.  A new mum suffering from psychosis was recently explored on Eastenders on BBC1.

What causes depression?

We don’t know for sure what causes postnatal depression, although it seems likely that a number of things may contribute. Hormones may possibly play a role, while social and emotional factors have been shown to be important. The following circumstances have been linked with a higher risk of depression:

  • Stressful recent life events

  • Lack of social support

  • Previous experience of depression

  • Negative pregnancy, birth or feeding experiences

Around 1 in 10 dads suffer from depression, with similar symptoms and triggers.

Preventing depression

Research has consistently found that emotional support can help guard against depression and the lack of it increases the risk.  Women need to feel able to talk openly to another person.

Sadly, a recent NCT survey found that out of 1,260 first time mothers 57% said they did not get the support they needed in the first 24 hours after a hospital birth and 43% said their emotional needs were not met via home support.  52% felt they did not get consistent advice about feeding.  Another study found that the support of partners make a real difference to the confidence of new mothers.

New mothers can find it hard to admit to finding things difficult and be unable to see that it is NOT their fault.  One of the benefits of having a doula at your side before, during and after birth is that they have an insight into your experience  some of which you may not be able to remember.  This insight can provide a safe environment for mothers to share their worries and a doula can provide reassurance that your feelings are normal and in the worse case scenario be able to support a woman if she decides to make a formal complaint.

There are other ways to increase emotional wellbeing in the postnatal period, for instance eating properly is so important, consider seeing a nutritionalist, http://drvivianlord.com comes highly recommended.  Gentle exercise, such as a walk in the park, can be beneficial. Try not to do too much and be realistic about how much you can achieve, ie one event a day for you and baby. Women put enormous pressure upon themselves to be perfect, but it is much better for you and your baby to aim to be a happy mum rather than a “supermum.” You can also call on ‘Hello Mums” for the odd hour off and know your baby is in safe hands.

How you take back some control of your life will be very personal to you. It may involve having a haircut, relaxing in the bath, reading a magazine or watching a film, but finding ‘me time’ is key to holding on to ‘the unique you’ behind the mother.

‘Why Perinatal Depression Matters’ by Mia Scotland is a simple, easy to read guide, and explores the stresses that a modern couple can come under.  The book is available at http://www.pinterandmartin.com/why-perinatal-depression-matters.html from only £5.00.

Dealing with depression

If you are concerned you may have postnatal depression, it is important that you do not suffer alone. Talk to your health visitor or GP to see what help is on offer. Treatments for postnatal depression generally include:

  • “Talking” therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy either one-to-one with a counsellor or with a group

  • “Self-help” therapies such as guided self-help or computerised cognitive behavioural therapy which can be provided by your GP

  • Anti-depressants, these should not be taken without ‘talking therapy’ alongside

Unfortunately one of the downsides of living in an area with such a high birth rate is that postnatal health services can be stretched and you may not get the help you need the first time you ask. Don’t give up and remember that there are other sources of support. See below for details.

Support for depression
The Cedar House Support Group is a registered charity which supports mums suffering from postnatal depression. A support group is running in Balham every Friday in term time (more details here: www.postnataldepression.com/cedar-house-support-group). The weekly groups are run by Liz Wise, a professionally trained counsellor, who herself suffered from the illness after the birth of both her children.

Liz can be contacted on lwise@talktalk.net, 07773 283556.  All calls are confidential.

The Association for Postnatal Illness, www.apni.org run a free helpline (0207 386 0868 Monday-Friday 10am-2pm)

If you would like to talk through all the options available call Julie on 0790 9924043 or email julie@babyintuition.co.uk as she has a lot of experience supporting women with depression and can help find the best route for you.

As one depressed mum said about her road to recovery:

“I began to realise that this is about taking care of me. But it was also about reaching out and asking for help.”

Inspiration for this blog was provided by Alex Bollen (Postnatal Practitioner www.nct.org.uk/branches/clapham) and Margherita Tessarin, doula and Ayurvedic practitioner http://doula-ayurveda.vpweb.co.uk/default.html

Many thanks to Julie Morris from Baby Intuition for this heartwarming post.