Post Natal Depression (PND) is surprisingly common, with approximately 1 in 10 mothers affected by it at some point in the year following the birth. Although it’s not a subject that many people feel comfortable talking openly about, it’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Despite the fact that people will tell you over and over that parenthood is the most joyful thing in the world, it can be quite an adjustment and you shouldn’t feel guilty if you are not 100% bursting with joy 100% of the time.Not to be confused with the baby blues – a fleeting period of low mood in the first 10 days after having a baby - PND is an illness that doesn’t get better on its own. It is important to know what can help if it happens to you, and it can affect dads and partners too. So, what can we do about it?
Thankfully there is a lot of support if you know what the warning signs are and how to spot it.
Signs to look out for:
• Sadness and low mood. Of course, the baby blues is a normal stage to go through, but if your feelings of depression and sadness last much beyond the first 10 days after birth, it might be time to think about speaking to somebody.
• Extreme tiredness. Sure, all new parents feel tired so this can be a tricky one! One thing I know is that if you’re being woken frequently by your baby, you’re so exhausted that falling straight back to sleep isn’t usually a problem. If you find you often cannot sleep, even though you’re exhausted, and your baby is asleep, it might be time to seek help.
• Loss of confidence. Okay, so none of us knows what we’re doing when we become parents for the first time, but if you find yourself constantly second-guessing your instincts, or if you feel unable to make even the smallest of decisions, it could be a red flag that all is not well.
• Eating too little, or too much. Everybody is different in this respect, but if your eating habits change to the extent that they are not normal for you and if other people notice that you are not quite yourself in this respect, it might be something to consider.
• Feeling guilty. Again, this comes with the parenting territory, or it does to an extent. If you are finding yourself overwhelmed with feelings of guilt rather than just the odd niggle that you quickly dismiss, then it might be time to talk.
• Problems with bonding. You might be feeling down about how things aren’t exactly as you’d imagined. Know that this is normal. There is no correct way to feel about parenthood. This tiny person has upended almost every aspect of your life. It’s a lot to get your head around. But if these feelings become too much or become extreme and turn into thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, you really do need to get help.
Know you are not alone and that PND is really common. The discussion around PND needs to be normalised and should not carry any stigma. With the right help it is a manageable and temporary condition that you will overcome with time and support.
What can help:
• Talk. You don’t have to suffer alone. Talk to your support network, your partner, friends and family. Sometimes the hardest part is admitting that you might be struggling. We know it's difficult to open up Initially and let your loved ones know how you're feeling, but they will help you. If you don't feel as confident opening up to your family you can join groups on social media where you can chat to other mums who have been through a similar situation. TALKING helps massively, especially when it's to someone who has got through the other side.
• Realise you don’t have to do everything. Let others help you with things around the house. Don’t let it stress you out if some household jobs don’t get done. Get your family, friends and partner to help. This is a huge adjustment and young babies are very demanding. Nobody can do it all.
• Make time for yourself. This feeds into the guilt that many people feel when they become parents, but please know that it is not selfish to make time for yourself. You are important too and you can take time out to go for a walk on your own, have a warm bath, or read a book while your partner takes care of the baby. It’s not all on you.
• Rest when you can. If you have a baby who wakes frequently in the night, make sure you have a plan in place to combat the way sleep deprivation makes you feel. Whether this is doing shifts with your partner over night or getting a nap in the day while your mum looks after the baby for a few hours, it is important that you make sure that you get a bit of rest. Having a bit of sleep can work wonders on your mood.
• Eat regular meals. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet and drinking plenty of water will support you during this challenging time. Try not to go too long without eating anything as this can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and low mood. You might want to avoid alcohol as well if this tends to make you feel worse.
When to seek medical help
If you have tried all of the strategies listed above and you are still feeling consistently low, you might want to speak to your GP and health visitor. They can help support you to decide which treatment is right for you, whether that is a talking therapy, CBT, regular visits from the health-visiting team, psychotherapy, or a combination of these, alongside medication.
PND and COVID-19
In the midst of the pandemic, with the nation in lock down, it is more important than ever that new parents take care of themselves and seek help if they need it. Although a lot of GP surgeries have moved to telephone and video appointments, please know that the NHS is still there for you. Don’t shy away from phoning your doctor if you are struggling. They can still help you.
Online support and helplines
These organisations either offer helplines, or can help to point you in the right direction:
• The Maternal Mental Health Alliance website offers a search function to help you find local support groups and helpline numbers.
• The helpline for Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support (PANDAS) is open 9am to 8pm, Monday to Sunday. Call them on 0843 28 98 401
• The NCT also offers a helpline which is staffed 8am to midnight Monday to Sunday. Call them on 0300 330 0700