What you need to know about postnatal depression

This past Mother’s Day was an occasion for mums to enjoy and celebrate. Whether it’s a time to be pampered, spoilt or receive a simple ‘thank-you’, Mother’s Day is a welcome reminder to mothers about how much they’re appreciated.

For many, however, it will also be a stark reminder of the difficulties of parenthood. It is easy to be so caught up in the idealistic dream of having children that people forget the realities of giving birth and raising a child.

Many parents will agree that their child or children are their greatest source of joy, but accept the job comes with inevitable ups-and-downs, from sleepless nights to temper tantrums and difficult teenage years.

For some women, giving birth will have led to unexplained feelings of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness and/or depression. Whilst this can be perfectly normal in the first few days after labour, when days become weeks, months and even years, it may well be postnatal depression.

The UK is becoming increasingly aware of postnatal depression, which means that midwives and doctors are getting better at noticing the signs. For those unsure whether or not this is something that they or a loved one are suffering from, the following will provide an insight into understanding postnatal depression.

It’s surprisingly common

Many new parents won’t tell anyone if they’re experiencing the signs of postnatal depression. People worry others will perceive them to be bad parents or surmise that they don’t care about their baby. In some cases a parent, or parents, convince themselves that these feelings will pass once things settle down.

The situation can worsen through pressure faced from social media sites where a person can see friends posting doting photos of their children and a happy family life, leaving them feeling like they have failed in some way. Again, this can make it difficult to seek help.

It is important to dispel these images, and realise that postnatal depression is common. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, it now affects 10 to 15 out of every 100 women who give birth.

Men aren’t immune

Postnatal depression can be triggered by many things and the rampant hormones that run riot throughout pregnancy and during child birth can contribute to it. This is in part an explanation as to why this condition has long been thought of as an issue that only affects women.

Becoming a parent has a huge impact on a person’s life and this is something that affects both men and women; neither gender is immune to the condition. The latest figures show than one in every 10 fathers is now suffering from postnatal depression.

Experiences of PND differ

The signs and symptoms of postnatal depression can vary widely from person-to-person. Some people will experience mild and infrequent feelings of the ‘baby blues’ whereas others can sink into a more serious depression that requires treatment.

For those that are worried they, or someone they know, are suffering from postnatal depression, some of the most common symptoms include:

    • A persistent feeling of sadness or low mood
    • Loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable
    • Lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
    • Difficulty sleeping at night
    • Feeling incapable of looking after the baby
    • Changes in eating habits – either loss of appetite or comfort eating
    • Becoming easily agitated, irritable and lacking motivation
    • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness or blame
    • Difficulty bonding with the baby
    • Other more serious signs that require urgent attention include frightening thoughts of wanting to hurt the baby (even if they’re not acted upon) or contemplating suicide or self-harm.

Guilt

Experiencing feelings of guilt is one of the prevalent symptoms of postnatal depression and it’s often one of the most debilitating. Sufferers frequently report feeling guilty about being sad at a time when they should be euphoric, and don’t feel capable of looking after a baby as they should. This can produce feelings of inadequacy and failure in new parents – these feelings of guilt can in turn produce further psychological distress.

Help is available

Any kind of depression is debilitating and difficult to beat, and PND is no exception: but there is plenty of help available.

Speaking to a professional e.g. your health visitor, midwife, GP or trained counsellor is the first step to seeking help and support. A GP may also recommend medication depending on the severity of the condition. PND can be successfully treated and, upon learning to deal with the feelings they’re experiencing, many parents go on to lead very happy lives with their children.

If you would like more information about postnatal depression, please feel free to visit our Knowledge Centre.

Alternatively, you can also contact us if you would like more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments that are available.

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