Feeling a bit down after giving birth is so common, it is pretty much normal. In the first 10 days especially, your mood will feel all over the place because of the hormones flying around making you feel crazy, tearful, super-happy, super-sad often all at the same time. This is a normal post-natal experience. You will find yourself crying at car insurance adverts on the telly. It’s a bit weird, but completely standard. Hormonal changes, exhaustion and the huge life-changing experience of BECOMING A PARENT of course are going to impact on your mood. It can be quite hard hitting. This is not post-natal depression; this is what is termed Baby Blues and is fairly typical. Of course even after the first few weeks, there will be times when you have days of feeling low, or a bit weepy or generally a bit fed up. Occasional days like this are completely standard for mums, just like they are for anyone else. These can be compounded by tiredness, crying babies, a bit of cabin-fever and all the other woes and worries life throws at us. This is nothing to worry about or analyse: I would simply diagnose this as being human.
Post-natal depression is something else entirely. PND is completely different from feeling low or bored or anxious. When post-natal depression hits mummies, it strikes hard and you can’t really mistake it. We think around one in ten mums will experience post-natal depression so whilst it’s not the norm, it’s certainly not uncommon.
The essential difference between feeling “a bit down” and post-natal depression, is that depression occurs on most days, and continues the same for a few weeks. There are very specific symptoms of depression and there is no obvious cause such as tiredness.
Time after time, mums say to me “but I don’t know why I’m depressed, I have a good baby, he’s not difficult”. That’s exactly the point – you can’t rationalise post-natal depression.
Clear signs of post-natal depression
If one or more of these symptoms occur on most days over a period of two weeks, you could be suffering with depression.
|Not enjoying the good stuff, not being interested in yourself or your baby|
|Feeling guilty, unloved or that you are not a good mummy|
|Feeling as if you can’t cope, even with the easy stuff|
|Lacking motivation to do anything for yourself or for the baby|
|Feeling irritated and irritable for no obvious reason|
|Feeling indecisive and unable to concentrate on or remember things|
In conjunction with these symptoms mums with post-natal depression feel tired, have poor sleep and often feel less hungry. However, these symptoms are common in all other new mums too, so are not a great way to distinguish a true depression.
If at any point you recognise these symptoms in yourself please please please seek help. Remember seeking help for depression is no different to seeking help for diabetes.
The sooner you start with help, the easier it can be to treat before your mood plummets further and damaging thoughts and behaviours become your routine. Sometimes, accessing help can take time: if you are recommended a talking therapy the waiting-list may be a few weeks so the quicker you’re on that list, the better.
Going to the GP and admitting you possibly have depression does not mean an instant prescription for anti-depressants. I know a lot of people are afraid of this. Anti-depressants are a good treatment and for many women they can help and are necessary. They can take the edge of the extremes of your feelings – the huge downers – but some people feel they numb you too much. It can also take a good 2-3 weeks to feel the benefit of these meds.
Some mums have counselling for PND or more formal therapy known as CBT. This may be based at the GP surgery and involves talking through how you feel but also learning how to behave in response to depressive thoughts. In time, the new behaviours become your norm and this allows you to move on from the depression.
Occasionally with mild post-natal depression, no treatment is needed at all, just reassurance and acceptance can be enough. Some GPs will recommend a weekly chat with a health visitor – keeping an eye at home – or advise you to schedule a weekly plan, so you are distracted from your own thoughts and not allowing yourself to get isolated. I often recommend where possible people get whatever help they can afford, and even draw up a formal rota of friends and family to be around so support is more constant and consistent.
Whatever treatment you end up needing, the most important thing is to be honest with yourself – if something isn’t working, go back to the doctor and ask for different help. You wouldn’t hesitate if you had a broken arm; so please don’t hesitate with your depression.