It’s common for mums to feel a little down after giving birth, but if the low mood persists for any length of time then it may be time to seek help, says Arlene Harris.
ONCE the hard work of labour is over and you are cradling your newborn, most women will feel utterly overjoyed.
But later the hormonal turmoil inside our bodies can cause us to feel weepy and irrationally sad — this, as most women will know, is referred to as the baby blues.
Midwife and GentleBirth facilitator, Tracy Donegan says this condition is very common and usually lasts a few days.
“In the first few days after birth around 80% of new mums experience a significant drop in hormones (such as oxytocin) which can result this emotional tsunami,” she says.
But while most will return to their normal selves (albeit a more exhausted version) within a week or so, a sizeable minority will go on to develop postnatal depression, which is a much more worrying situation.
“You may be experiencing more than the baby blues if you are finding that things you used to enjoy are no longer appealing — or if you feel like you’ve no energy, focus or appetite,” says Donegan.
Margaret Hanahoe, assistant director of midwifery at the National Maternity Hospital says the condition can be very serious.
“Every woman’s experience differs, but your feelings in the first few days, particularly when you return home, can range widely and include a combination of elation, relief, joy, pride, guilt, anxiety, detachment and even resentment,” she says.
“It’s also quite common to feel a sense of anti-climax and you are likely to feel overwhelmed at some point — all of this is normal.”
The baby blues will usually pass within days, or at the most a couple of weeks.
However, says Hanahoe, if they get progressively worse, last longer or return then you need to seek help as you may be one of the 10-12% of women who go on to develop postnatal depression (PND).
“This usually begins two to three weeks following the birth but can sometimes appear many months later and, if left untreated, it can last for years, with detrimental consequences for you and all your relationships — so it is really important that you tell your obstetrician, community midwife, GP or public health nurse about any mental health concerns you have.”
PND can affect anyone, including celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Courteney Cox and Elle McPherson.
Hanahoe, who has recently published two online maternity guides — Bump to Birth to Baby and After Birth — says that after giving birth women are more likely to suffer from a mental health disorder than at any other time in her life.
“This can be a very vulnerable time for new mums, so it is important that after giving birth, new mothers and those around her are aware of potential problems,” she says.
“Sometimes it is hard to see these symptoms in yourself, so if your partner or family are concerned you need to listen to them.
“As well as your own medical carer don’t forget that additional help is available from organisations that provide assistance to women with postnatal depression including Postnatal Depression Ireland, and Aware.
"And don’t underestimate the power of social media, particularly if you live in an isolated area.”
Sarah* suffered with PND after the birth of her second child and says she found it very difficult to talk to family and friends, so it was the support of strangers which helped her through.
“I suffered from baby blues after my first daughter was born so when my second arrived and I was feeling depressed, I just put it down to the same thing, but it continued for months,” she admits.
“When my partner would go to work, I would sometimes stay in bed all day, just moving to feed the baby — I felt as if I was trying to climb a mountain, but not succeeding in getting anywhere.
“But I was unable to tell my partner or family how I was feeling — I felt like a failure. But I went online and joined a forum where I found other women who were going through the same thing.
"This was a great help and I eventually told my GP about it and then everyone close to me who were, of course, amazingly supportive.
“So I would advise women to talk to someone about their feelings, no matter who it is as the important thing to realise is that you’re not alone.”
Deirdre Madden, advanced nurse practitioner in perinatal medical health at the NMH agrees: “PND can happen to anyone, it’s not your fault and it’s never too late to seek help,” she says.
“Even if you have been depressed for a while, you can get better.”
Midwife Tracy Donegan says medication is not always the only way to treat PND.
“Mindfulness and CBT have shown to improve emotional balance after birth,” she says.
“And although you may not feel up to exercising it changes your brain chemistry so join a mum baby walking group or start your own.
"Also Include omega 3s in your diet and talk to your GP about bright light therapy especially during the Irish winter months.”
* Name changed
Warning signs of PND include:
* Persistent low mood or constant elation
* Feelings of total inadequacy
* Exhausted but unable to sleep
* Poor appetite or excessive comfort eating
* Feelings of hopelessness
* Excessive anxiety about your baby
* Suicidal thoughts
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