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Coping with Postnatal Depression

Birth Trauma — admin @ 4:27 pm

In previous posts we have referred to the experience of PTSD following childbirth and we now turn our attention to Postnatal Depression. In the days following the birth of your baby, it is not unusual to experience some degree of mood swings. However, it is the mildness or severity of these which determines what category one falls into. There are three main kinds of mood swings namely ‘The Baby Blues’, Postnatal Depression or Puerperal Psychosis.

In its mildest form, the Baby Blues is unpleasant for new mothers who may have been caught unawares with tearfulness, irritability and feeling vulnerable somewhere between day two and day four following childbirth. It is thought that this is due to the drop in hormone levels at this time and it resolves itself within a few weeks. Puerperal psychosis is a severe form of mental illness, where a woman loses all contact with reality following the birth of her child. This is very rare, affecting 1 in 500 and requires hospital admission and psychiatric treatment. Mothers can make a full recovery with professional help and family support.

About 15% of women in Ireland fall into the category of Postnatal Depression. This can begin as a form of baby blues that doesn’t lift but lingers on and gets worse. It can last for months and even years if undiagnosed. One of the problems with it is that women often don’t know what’s wrong and it can take a family member to notice that there is a problem. Symptoms can include crying, irritability, anxiety (sometimes manifesting as panic attacks), often not knowing exactly why. Loss of interest in yourself, your appearance and your relationships is common. This can manifest in social withdrawal, where you don’t want to see family or friends. You may experience loss of appetite and insomnia, finding it hard to sleep even when your baby is asleep. This results in tiredness and a subsequent inability to deal with the demands of motherhood. This coupled with not really feeling huge love for your baby can leave you feeling pretty awful about yourself. Self Esteem is often low as mothers feel they are not managing as well as others seem to do ( I am reminded at this point of the photo shoots in magazines portraying new mothers (and babies) as perfect, living in a perfect house with a perfect partner). Life isn’t like that but somehow the media’s portrayal of new motherhood sticks and we feel inadequate when we don’t match up to that standard. It is not unusual for some mothers to tip into obsessive behaviour like excessive tidying or some may develop an overwhelming fear (e.g. death).

The good news is that Postnatal Depression is treatable and you will recover. Like any illness, recovery takes time. It is important to concentrate on the practical aspects of daily living, like getting enough rest and eating well. Accepting help from others is a big part of this, reminding yourself that it is temporary. It can be difficult to admit that you need help but your recovery will be quicker if you do. Talking about your feelings to your partner, family, friends, GP or Public Health Nurse will certainly help. Some GPs may offer anti-depressant medication as part of treatment.

It would also be quite common for women experiencing postnatal depression to seek counselling as part of their treatment. Counselling can offer you a safe place to explore your feelings in a non-judgemental way, something that may be difficult to do with people close to you. For some there are other issues from their past complicating or impacting on their mood and recovery. These issues can be conscious or unconscious e.g. If a woman has lost her own mother she may feel this more at this time or if she has had an abusive childhood this may be affecting her at an unconscious level.

Support groups can be very helpful where you can meet with mothers who have had similar experiences to you, facilitated by a trained counsellor. Here at counselling connections we run groups for mothers who are suffering from PTSD and Postnatal depression where women share their experiences with each other. If you are a partner reading this and want to know how to help the first thing to do is get outside help. Remind your partner that this illness will pass and support her in whatever way you can practically and emotionally. This can be a trying time for you too and for your relationship but with the appropriate help, it will resolve.

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