Postnatal depression: Could you be exhibiting signs and symptoms?

You’re a new mum with a beautiful baby in your arms and people keep telling you how lucky you are, but there’s an underlying sadness and heaviness within that appeared unexpectedly, and now you can’t seem to shift it. Worried you could be suffering postnatal depression? Statistics show you’re not alone.

Life after birth

After months of pregnancy, there’s nothing more exciting than the thoughts of holding your baby, looking into that precious little face and discovering who it is you’ve been growing.

You spend a few days in hospital surrounded by helpful midwives and nurses, then all of sudden you’re free to go home with this tiny, brand new human under your wing. That you’re totally in charge of. Daunting much?

When you’re pregnant, it can be difficult to see much further past preparing for the day you give birth. In truth, those first few days with a newborn can be hazy and stressful as you recover from childbirth, come to terms with your new role and identity as a parent, master tasks such as feeding, bathing and swaddling, and deal with the head rush of hormones that are going haywire as they work to shrink your uterus back down to size, prepare your body for breastfeeding (whether you intend to or not – and that’s entirely up to you) and more.

That’s a lot to take on for someone who feels as exhausted as they might after running a marathon (or 10), and it’s common to feel a little down after giving birth. In fact, as much as 80 per cent of women may experience the baby blues – feeling low, tired and tearful – within the first few days of parenthood.

However, if you still experience emotions such as anxiety, stress, anger or fear after a week or two that are unusual to you, and that you can’t seem to shake off, it may be a sign of something more than the baby blues.

Postnatal depression: signs and symptoms

Statistics show that postnatal depression, or PND, effects up to 12,000 mothers in Ireland every year.

It can occur any time within the first year of having a baby, and isn’t solely the domain of first-time mums. In the UK, it’s estimated that as many as 20 per cent of women and 10 per cent of men can experience anxiety or depression during pregnancy or the early stages of parenthood – whether it’s their first, second, third or eighth child. Of the 20 per cent of cases reported for women, research  shows 15 per cent of those develop during pregnancy, so early intervention is important.

Common signs and symptoms of PND can include:

  • Persistent low mood, or constant elation
  • Irritability
  • Tearfulness
  • Despair
  • Feeling numb
  • Withdrawing from social occasions
  • Loss of libido
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Exhaustion, sometimes coupled with difficulty falling asleep
  • No longer finding pleasure in things you would normally enjoy
  • Loss or increase in appetite
  • Feelings of guilt, shame or hopelessness
  • Feeling overly anxious about your baby
  • Feeling a lack of interest in your baby
  • Doubt over bonding with your baby
  • Thoughts about self-harm, or suicidal thoughts

What if it’s more?

Feeling overly anxious as a new parent may be a sign of postnatal anxiety, while a sudden increased or obsessive desire for order and organisation may be an indication of postnatal obsessive compulsive disorder.

These conditions are not mutually exclusive. It’s common to experience symptoms of more than one of them, and important to note that they are all temporary when addressed with professional treatment.

In very rare and serious exceptions, experiences including hallucinations, feelings of paranoia and extreme and sudden mood swings can be signs of postpartum psychosis. A temporary mental illness that effects one in 1000 women in Ireland soon after giving birth, it can put the safety of the mother and her baby at risk, and requires immediate professional and medical intervention.

Help, support and treatment

If you do recognise symptoms of postnatal depression in yourself or your partner, it’s vital to seek professional help as soon as possible, ask loved ones for support, and avoid blaming yourself in any way.

With early intervention, there can be an 80-90 per cent chance of recovery. The first step in seeking professional support is to book an appointment with your GP. He or she will be able to listen to your concerns and discuss your symptoms with you before providing a diagnosis and a plan to help you overcome PND. Your public health nurse can also provide some professional support and advice.

Medication may be prescribed, though not always, and in many mild to moderate cases, gentle exercise such as walking with the pram can prove to be beneficial.

Recent research has found exercise may decrease a new mother’s risk of developing depression by as much as 50 per cent.

It’s important to share what you’re going through; know that you don’t have to keep it to yourself. Talk about what you’re feeling and experiencing with people you trust – a family member, a close friend, your partner.

It can also help to know you’re not alone in how you feel. Speaking to other parents experiencing postnatal depression can also be of great benefit. Look up ‘supports for postnatal depression’ to find helplines and support groups in your area, and join the Moment Health online community via your app for peer to peer support from the comfort of home.

Remember that postnatal depression is not uncommon. Ask for and accept help, get professional advice, seek support and know that by doing all of this you will go back to feeling like yourself again.

A bit about Moment Health…

Moment Health is a technology company that aims to prioritise Maternal Mental Health and provide new parents with the tools and knowledge they need to sustain good mental wellbeing – from pregnancy through to parenthood.

The Moment Health app has been developed with clinicians and healthcare professionals. It screens for perinatal, postnatal and associated anxieties, and includes additional features such as a helpful guide to practical and accessible coping strategies.

At Moment Health, our mission is to make maternal mental health mainstream #MakeItMainstream.

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