Postnatal depression affects 10-15% of women having a baby. Symptoms are similar to those in depression and can make it difficult for new mums to look after themselves and their baby. In about a third of women, the symptoms actually start during pregnancy and continue after delivery.
Symptoms of PND
- Depression – feeling low, unhappy or tearful
- Sleep problems – beyond those associated with a new baby. You may struggle to fall asleep, wake in the night even when your baby is asleep, or lie awake worrying.
- Lack of enjoyment
- Anxiety – all new mums worry about their babies, but if you ave PND this anxiety can become overwhelming. You may be so worried that you are scared to be left alone with your baby
- Avoid other people
- Hopeless – the feeling that things will never improve
- Thoughts of suicide – you may think that life is not worth living. If you have any thoughts of harming yourself, seek urgent help.
What’s the difference between baby blues and postnatal depression?
About half of women experience the baby blues. This usually starts Day 3 or 4 postnatally, and usually stops by the time baby is 10 days old. The symptoms are similar to postnatal depression, with mood swings, tearfulness, feeling irritable, low and anxious at times. If these symptoms persist beyond 2 weeks, tell your GP or obstetrician, as this may be postnatal depression.
What can be done to help?
This depends on how severe the postnatal depression is, and this is why we encourage you to seek advice and assessment from your GP, or one of the team at Women’s Health Orange, as soon as possible. We use the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Score (EPDS), which is a questionnaire which can be used to identify whether you have symptoms common with depression and anxiety. Your midwife may already have performed this questionnaire with you after the delivery of your baby.
For some women, just talking about their concerns and worries through can be enough. There are a number of self-help suggestions which can work.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Be frightened of the diagnosis. You will get better with time, and those around you will find it easier to support you if they know the problem
- Blame yourself, your partner or close friends or relatives. Tiredness and irritability can lead to arguments.
- Use alcohol or drugs. You might feel better in the short term, but long term these can worsen your mood and functioning.
- Stop antidepressant medication during pregnancy without seeking advice
- Tell someone how you feel. It can be a huge relief to talk to someone
- Take every opportunity for rest
- Try to eat regularly, even when you don’t feel hungry
- Let others help – with housework, shopping, looking after other children
- Try to be social, even when it feels really hard
- Regular exercise – talk to your GP or obstetrician for guidance on when it is safe to exercise again. But even a gentle walk can boost your mood significantly.
Other women benefit immensely from more formal psychological input. We have a dedicated psychologist at Women’s Health Orange who has a special interest in perinatal psychology. Sometimes talking therapies and counselling can help immensely, for other women, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be very effective in the treatment of PND. CBT works by helping you see how your thought patterns may be affecting your mood. By changing the way you think, depression symptoms can be improved.
If your PND is more severe or is not improving with psychology alone, medication will probably help. Antidepressants can be used very effectively in the treatment of postnatal depression – some are safer than others if you are breastfeeding. Antidepressants take 2-4 weeks to start working, and you will need to take them for at least 6 months. Do not stop medication without talking to your GP. The decision to take antidepressants when breastfeeding is a personal choice. We believe in providing you with the information and supporting you in your decisions.
If you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby or cannot look after yourself or your baby, seek professional help immediately
- Call Mental Health Line 1800 011 511
- Your GP
- Attend your local emergency department