For many women the initial feelings of joy after giving birth give way to unhappiness and moments of depression. The "baby blues", as these emotions are commonly known, are usually short-lived and fade away within days or a few weeks.
In some women, however, these feelings are intense and do not diminish with time. They cause extreme anxiety and adversely affect the sufferer's life. This more extreme state is termed post-natal depression (or postpartum depression); it requires careful handling and, very often, professional help.
Recognising post-natal depression
Before being able to cope with post-natal depression, you have to recognise its symptoms. Everyone experiences it in a different way but a long term lack of energy, motivation and feelings of not being able to cope are amongst the most universal.
Other symptoms include:
- Irritability and tearfulness.
- Not enjoying being with your new baby.
- Worrying that you might harm your baby.
- Preferring to avoid friends and family.
- Worrying about things that would not normally be a cause of concern.
- Feeling guilty about not being able to cope.
- Panic attacks.
How to cope with post-natal depression
If you have post-natal depression, it is vital that you get help but you can take simple steps to help yourself:
- Among the most important things you can do to help you cope is to tell someone about how you feel. Let your partner, close relatives or friends know and they will be able to lend the support you need. Joining a mothers' group, where you'll get advice and support from others with babies and know something of what you're going through, is an excellent source of help.
- Take some time to exercise – exercise is well known to help alleviate depression and is also good for general health and well being.
- Rest and sleep – be sure to take adequate rest and get enough sleep.
- Know your limitations – you cannot do everything so set yourself only the tasks you can handle and get help for jobs you can't manage or don't have time to do.
- Make sure that you eat properly – a proper diet is crucial to good mental and physical health. It is also important to ensure the quality of your breast milk.
- Take some time out – a cup of coffee or a relaxing bath are great ways to recharge your batteries.
See your health professional
If you suspect that you might have post-natal depression it is important to see your health professional. Your GP, midwife or health visitor will be able to assess your condition and give you advice on self-help techniques.
If your case is more serious, they may suggest therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy, to help you think and behave in a more positive way, or interpersonal therapy, which tries to identify how those close to you might affect your depression. You may even require anti-depressants but rest assured that, if you are breast-feeding, you'll be prescribed what are known as SSRI, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are safe for your baby.
How you as a partner can help
As a husband or partner, you can play an important part in helping your women get through post-natal depression. These simple suggestions are easy to follow and will make a huge difference – in fact they should be followed even of post-natal depression is not present:
- Simply be there by listening and letting your partner get things off her chest without commenting or judging.
- Make sure she takes breaks and has some time to herself.
- Be patient- be affectionate but don't press her for sex.
- Take her out for a walk – a simple way to help her relax and get exercise.
- Reduce her load by lending a hand with the housework or doing the shopping.