Mild feelings of sadness or fluctuations in mood are very common after the birth of a new child. Up to 80 per cent of new mothers will experience these ‘baby blues’ in the first couple of weeks. Luckily, these feelings usually pass on their own within a day or two.
For some new parents, however, the emotional toll of childbirth can be more serious. One in seven new mums will experience postnatal depression, a more severe or prolonged episode of emotional changes that can include strong depressive mood swings, anxiety, social withdrawal, irritability and loss of enjoyment in usual activities.
Symptoms of postnatal depression
Postnatal depression can start slowly or suddenly and can range from a mild feeling of sadness to severe depression. It is most common after a woman’s first pregnancy, and usually develops in the first few weeks or months after the birth.
Symptoms of postnatal depression can include:
- Low self-esteem and confidence
- Feelings of inadequacy and guilt
- Loss of enjoyment of usual activities
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Sleeping difficulties
- A feeling of being unable to cope
- Suicidal thoughts
- Panic attacks
- Loss of libido
- Fears for baby’s or partners’ safety or wellbeing.
Postnatal depression can also cause sufferers to withdraw from those around them and in some cases from their partner and child. It can also interfere with the ability to continue normal daily routines, which can in turn cause distress.
You’re more at risk of developing postnatal depression if you’ve suffered from depression before, if you experienced a traumatic birth, or if you have a lack of support around you when the baby arrives. But there are other factors, such as a lack of sleep, being overwhelmed by the big changes that are suddenly happening or being stressed by other events in your life. If you are at risk, mention it to your family, as well as your doctor or midwife before it happens, so you’ve got a team of people looking out for you. Being prepared means you’ll be quicker to recognise and deal with it, if it does happen.
Treating postnatal depression
It’s important to understand that postnatal depression is a real condition that requires support and isn’t something you need to just ‘snap out of’ or ‘get over’. If you have been feeling this way for two weeks or more, make sure you visit your doctor to talk about what you are experiencing. Your doctor will work with you to come up with a treatment plan that might include:
- Counselling or psychological treatment
- Support groups
- Sleep management
- Diet, exercise and self-care
- Antidepressant medication
More information on postnatal depression, including risk factors and treatment options is available at beyondblue. You can also call the PANDA national helpline on 1300 726 306 for advice on perinatal anxiety and depression.
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