What is Postnatal Depression?
Postnatal Depression (PND) is a type of depression some parents suffer from after their baby is born. It usually develops around four to six weeks after birth and can be a crippling condition affecting as many as one in every ten parents.
Having a baby is a massive lifestyle change, so it is only natural that many new parents will experience feelings of anxiety, irritability and exhaustion. What is commonly known as the ‘baby blues’ will usually disappear after a couple of weeks, but if these feelings persist or become more severe, you may be suffering from PND. Men and PND
PND isn’t confined to mothers and there has been a marked increase in the number of men suffering from it. Lack of sleep, supporting a partner with PND and dramatic new responsibilities can all be triggers. Bridget O'Connell, from the mental health charity Mind, comments: "New parents can be faced with sleep deprivation, changes in lifestyle, changes in their relationship and new responsibilities all at once, and we don't always remember that this is going to be an issue for men as well as for women."
What are the symptoms of PND?
Symptoms and the severity levels of PND will vary from person to person, so those suffering shouldn’t compare themselves to other new parents. Sufferers may feel extreme hopelessness and want to avoid seeing friends and family. They may experience persistent negative thoughts and push their partner away both mentally and physically. Panic attacks, breathlessness, sweating and insomnia are further symptoms of PND.
What causes PND?
There are many different theories as to why some people suffer from PND while others don’t, but unfortunately there will never be a simple explanation or just one reason. Sufferers may have suffered from a mental illness like depression in the past or experienced extreme hormonal changes in pregnancy; they may have experienced stressful events during the pregnancy or don’t have the support of friends and family.
Does PND affect how you feel about your baby?
Many parents who suffer from PND fear that they don’t love their baby or worry that they will purposefully harm them in some way. There may be feelings of resentment towards the baby or guilt that the parent hasn’t naturally bonded with them. Many parents who feel this way often don’t ask for help through fear they will be perceived badly. They may even worry that their baby may be taken away from them but midwives, health visitors and GP’s are all there to help.
Can you treat PND?
Fortunately there are a number of ways you can treat PND and it is vital that you follow a course of treatment that is right for you. It may take up to a year to start feeling yourself again, but the love and support from those closest to you can be absolutely essential in your recovery.
Speak with a health visitor, midwife or doctor as soon as you can. The longer PND remains undiagnosed, the longer it’s likely to last and may become more severe.
Counselling and psychotherapy gives you the chance to explore the reasons that may have contributed to the depression and may help you to change the way you feel. Professor Terry Brugha of the University of Leicester’s Clinical Division of Psychiatry says: “Women are less likely to become depressed in the year after childbirth if they are attended by an NHS health visitor who has undergone additional training in specific mental health assessment and in psychological approaches based on either cognitive behavioural or listening techniques."
Alternatively your doctor may wish to prescribe you anti-depressants and it’s important to discuss this fully with them before starting a course. They can help to ease the symptoms of PND, helping you to cope better and there are specific types of anti-depressants that mothers can take if they are breastfeeding.
Liz Wise, post-natal depression support coordinator for the National Childbirth Trust advises: “Build up a network of friends and family for practical and emotional help, and find out about local PND support groups from your GP or NCT. Also, rest is vital - tiredness magnifies depressive feelings - but stay active, too, as exercise releases endorphins that can relieve feelings of tiredness and depression.”