What is Postnatal Depression?
Postnatal depression is a depression that occurs after birth. A third of people get depression that begins during pregnancy, so it is inclusive to use the word perinatal, which can begin between the start of pregnancy to around a year after giving birth.
All parents can experience postnatal/perinatal depression, it is not exclusive to the person who gives birth. Antenatal/prenatal, postnatal/postpartum, perinatal depression is as serious as all types of depression. It isn’t necessarily caused by the hormonal changes that relate to pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. It is important to get help for perinatal depression, because without help it can linger long-term.
How Common is Postnatal Depression?
Pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding all have more than a baby in common. Hormones, many hormones. Hormones affect mood, so throughout pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, most people experience a range of emotions different to any other year+ in their life. The emotions are powerful, extreme, and negative, as well as positive. Postnatal or perinatal depression is the depression some people feel after having a baby. Many people speak about the baby blues, the feeling around 80% of people get in the couple of weeks after giving birth. You might have bouts of feeling tearful for no reason, irritable or moody. Sad, anxious, emotional, overwhelmed and irrational. These feelings are normal, generally mild, and pass within a couple of weeks.
Experts believe the big fall in hormones after birth, disrupted sleep, and overnight change in life all contribute to the baby blues. However, if the baby blues do not pass within a couple of weeks, you could have postnatal depression. Postnatal depression sometimes happens later in the year after giving birth. Research shows that around 7%-19% of people experience postpartum depressive symptoms, with around a third beginning in pregnancy and a quarter before pregnancy.
What are the Signs of Postnatal Depression?
Postnatal depression is similar to other types of depression. The NHS lists the signs of postnatal depression as follows;
- A persevering feeling of low mood or sadness
- A lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in things that you previously enjoyed.
- Low energy and feeling tired.
- Sleep difficulties.
- Difficulty in bonding with your baby.
- Withdrawing from the wider world.
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
- Thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby.
When does Postnatal Depression Start?
Postnatal depression starts any time from the beginning of pregnancy to a year after birth. The label you give your feelings is less important than the support you receive. However, you might hear other people refer to this depression as perinatal – which means the start of pregnancy to one year after birth. Antenatal or prenatal – referring to before birth. Or postnatal / postpartum, meaning after birth and refers to the first year after birth.
How Long does Postnatal Depression Last?
Unlike the baby blues, postnatal depression is not something to leave and wait until it passes. Some people live with depression for months or years. If your symptoms persist for more than a couple of weeks, it is important to seek support or treatment. You can choose medical treatment or holistic treatment. Your doctor will give you the options for help offered with the NHS, and there are many other options should you wish to explore private support. Nutrition, exercise and therapy will all help your recovery.
What does Postnatal Depression Feel Like?
I’m not here to tell you what postnatal depression should feel like. Feelings are subjective, and depression is personal. There is no should and no typical. So how do you know if you have postnatal depression? I can give you some experiences from other people, and you can see whether they resonate with you.
Some people feel like post/perinatal depression is worse than other types of depression, because they have the typical symptoms of depression, which are bad enough alone, but they also have negative feelings towards their new baby. Some say they could not stand the sight of the baby. When they heard the baby cry, they felt angry. Dissociated, as if the cry they heard came from someone else’s baby. A feeling of irritation, why won’t someone shut the baby up?
They cried with the baby, but separately. Crying with exhaustion, loneliness, helplessness. As if their life was over, but the world depended on them with no option of escape. There is guilt and shame. For some people, the thoughts take them to a very dark place. Creating stories in their mind. What if stories, stories with two endings – neither good. Stories with options, who would I choose? For example. None of them were pleasant. Sometimes the thoughts cause physical reactions, such as sickness. The thoughts making everything else worse than you could ever imagine.
If everyone around you tells you how wonderful motherhood is, and the expectation is unadulterated joy, it might create a feeling of shame that holds you back from sharing your true feelings. Some people feel like a failure, they feel a terrible person. There is fear too. Fear someone will consider you a not good enough parent, and the authorities will take your child away.
Muddling along each day, trying desperately to feel the things you believe you should feel, whilst feeling worried about what you do feel. Whether you feel all these things, some of them or none of them, but you know that something isn’t right, get help now. Asking for help is not a failure, nor is it a weakness. It is the first step to feeling what your intuition tells you is your right way to feel.
How to Help Someone with Postnatal Depression?
When there is a new baby in the house, all attention seems to fall directly on the little squidge. Sometimes people rush over to pick up the new baby, without even stopping to say “Hi, how are you?” Regardless of whether your friend / family member has expressed concern about PND, try to direct your energy to them first. Check in with them, ask how they feel. Hear them and make your visit about them, rather than the baby.
Recently, my daughter asked me to ask the guests to leave our house prior to me going out. When I asked why, she explained she knew she was going to get upset, and she didn’t want anyone trying to fix it. Us adults would learn a lot if we listened more intently to children. We feel so uncomfortable with other’s discomfort that we try to fix it. Only we rarely have the tools to fix someone else’s problem, and the best thing we can do is allow space for the problem. Try not to fix your friend’s problem, or silence them by objecting to their feelings with comments such as “don’t be silly, you’re a great parent.” Acceptance and signs that you want to understand how they feel will help them more than any attempts to fix, which generally only alleviate your own discomfort.
Offer practical support, such as attending health appointments or cooking some food. There is a fine line between insinuating what they are currently doing isn’t good enough and helping, so try to pick up on signals. If your friend expresses discomfort about the state of her house, but says they don’t have time or energy to clean it, that’s your cue. If your friend tells you they haven’t eaten all day, cook some food. The key here is not to think about what you’d like help with in the same situation, but to hear what your friend says they need… despite them not necessarily asking directly.
Your friend’s baby will not express gratitude or give much back. When you’re with your friend, help them know how much their presence is worth. As always, when supporting someone else’s mental health, it is important to ensure your own support network too. The classic phrase “put your own oxygen mask on first” is ever relevant in this situation.