Becoming a new mum can evoke a range of emotions. From pure elation to extreme frustration, motherhood can take its toll on both your physical and emotional wellbeing. While it’s normal to feel anxious and overwhelmed in the first few months of giving birth, those feelings should eventually pass. If they don’t, it may be a sign that you are suffering from postpartum depression.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a type of depression that some women develop after having a baby. It can occur any time after childbirth, but most commonly appears within the first few months. PPD affects up to one in seven women who give birth in Australia each year. It is more common in first-time mums.
PPD can be difficult to detect as up to 80 per cent of new mums can develop the ‘baby blues’ between day three and ten of giving birth. Although the symptoms are similar to PPD, the baby blues usually disappears within a day or two, while PPD can linger for much longer.
Another problem when it comes to diagnosing PPD is the fact that mums who are chronically sleep deprived can experience the same symptoms as those associated with depression. I had one client, who was actually in the medical field, that went to see a GP and psychologist to get help and was advised to start taking antidepressants. She called me in tears and said “I’m not depressed, I’m just so bloody tired”. Once we got her sleep back on track, her symptoms disappeared.
Sometimes it’s hard to know whether the feelings you’re experiencing are depression, baby blues, chronic sleep deprivation or a combination of all three things.
image by @doodlebotillustration
What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
PPD can develop slowly or come out of nowhere. It can be mild and pass quickly, or severe and long lasting. The symptoms of PPD are different for everyone but may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Mood swings
- Negative thoughts
- Lack of self-confidence
- Difficulty focusing
- Memory loss
- Feelings of inadequacy and guilt
- Feeling that life is meaningless
- Tearfulness and irritability
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Low sex drive
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Withdrawal from social networks
- Lack of interest in your new baby
What factors contribute to postpartum depression?
The exact cause of PPD is still not known, however, researchers believe that the following factors may play a part:
Physical changes – Lack of sleep, stress, and hormonal fluctuations can affect your brain chemicals and have a traumatic effect on your body. Changes in body image and feeling like you’re no longer the woman you used to be can also take its toll.
Emotional changes – Learning to cope with a new baby while finding time to devote to your partner can add be difficult. Dealing with a sudden lack of independence and doubting your ability to be a good mum can also increase your anxiety.
Social changes – Trying to live up to the expectations that society places on new mums can be exhausting. Adjusting to living on one income can also put a strain on your relationship with your partner and add to the amount of stress you already feel.
Who is most likely to develop postpartum depression?
PPD can affect women from all walks of life, however, there are certain factors that can increase your risk of developing the condition such as:
- A family history of depression or mental illness
- Difficult pregnancy or birth
- Traumatic life event during pregnancy
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Giving birth to a sick baby
- Mixed feelings about the pregnancy
- Lack of support from family and friends
Can postpartum depression be treated?
There are several treatment options available for women suffering from PPD. The treatment you are prescribed will most likely depend on your individual circumstances but may include medication, counselling, lifestyle changes, or a combination of all three.
One of the key factors in ensuring a speedy and long-term recovery is the support a woman gets from her family and friends. If your loved one is suffering from PPD, here are some simple ways you can help:
- Take care of household chores – offer to do her washing, vacuum, or clean the bathrooms. It doesn’t matter what you do, every bit helps.
- Drop off meals – cook up a batch of healthy meals that she can pop in the freezer. Having nutritious meals on hand when she needs them will help her nourish her body and mind.
- Babysit – offer to take care of her baby so she can have some time to herself. Even 30mins will provide her with enough time to take a shower or go for a walk in peace.
- Grocery shop – get her to write out a shopping list so you can pick up everything she needs. If you don’t have time to shop, order her groceries online and unpack them when they arrive.
- Take her out – go for a stroll down to the local park or visit her favourite café. A change of scenery can lift even the of darkest moods.
- Encourage her to seek help – remind her that being a new mum is difficult. Let her know that there is no shame in seeking professional help if she needs it.
- Listen – Don’t offer her advice, just listen. Even if she doesn’t feel like talking, let her know that you are there for her if she ever wants to chat.
Having a baby is a life-changing event that can take its toll on your physical and mental health. Trying to cope with the demands a new baby places on you and the rest of your family can make you feel overwhelmed. If this happens, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Reach out to family and friends, or seek professional help if you need it. With the right support system, you’ll be able to enjoy your new baby and get on with living a happy and life.