Having a baby is one of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences. However, it can also be one of the most challenging. For 1 in 7 Australian women, what follows childbirth can be an unrelenting feeling of overwhelm, depression, and difficulty bonding with their new baby. Known as Postpartum or Postnatal depression, the condition can be grueling for a new mum, particularly for those who aren’t aware of what it is and how and when to seek support.
What is Postnatal depression and what causes it?
Even a relatively uncomplicated birth can be overwhelming for a new mum, but when you combine this with a sudden drop in pregnancy hormones affecting your brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), broken sleep, and general exhaustion, it can all contribute to developing postnatal depression.
PND is a negative emotional change that typically lasts longer than two weeks. While it’s common to experience ‘baby blues’ a couple of days after having a baby, these feelings usually don’t last very long. Postnatal depression goes beyond a few days and can stop you from doing things you like or need to do in day-to-day life. It can range from a mild feeling of sadness to debilitating depression.
Postnatal depression is not to be confused with postpartum/postnatal psychosis – a rare mental illness that some mothers experience in the first days and weeks after childbirth and is caused by a significant change in mood, behaviour, and thinking. Some symptoms of postpartum psychosis include hallucinations, paranoid beliefs, and confusion.
What are the Postnatal depression symptoms to look out for?
There are a few key signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for with Postnatal depression. It’s important to note that it’s not always the mum who experiences PND, partners can be at risk too. Key symptoms include (but are not limited to):
- Feeling tearful and irritable
- Low self-esteem, lack of confidence, or general feelings of inadequacy
- Feeling unable to cope or stop negative thoughts
- Loss of appetite
- Anxiety or panic attacks
Can you be more at risk of developing Postnatal depression than others?
There are several factors that could put you more at risk of developing Postnatal depression after childbirth. If you have a history of depression or another mental illness, there is a chance of this reappearing after childbirth. Experiencing issues with your baby can also be a trigger for Postnatal depression, whether it’s health issues with the baby or being unable to breastfeed. Another key risk of developing PND is not having enough support systems in place. Family and friend support is critical for new mums, so it’s important to try and surround yourself with people you can rely on for help should you need it. Life issues can also contribute to PND, such as money problems or issues with a partner.
What support is available?
There are a number of informative and helpful resources for mums experiencing postnatal depression:
- PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression) Helpline
- Local GP
- Child and family health nurse
- Obstetrician or midwife
- Local community health centre
- Local mental health services
- Local psychologist
How you can support someone with Postnatal depression
If you are the partner, family member, or friend of a woman with postnatal depression, there are many ways you can help them feel supported:
- Be patient, encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling, and accept that their feelings are genuine.
- Limit visitors if they don’t feel like socialising and if they need it, ask other family members for help around the house
- Provide emotional support and remind them often that you love them and are appreciative of what they’re doing and that they will recover from PND.
- If you are worried, encourage them to talk to their GP, midwife, obstetrician, child health nurse or to call PANDA on 1300 726 306. You can seek information and advice from a doctor if they refuse to go.