Post Natal Depression

Hattie Hedgecox

It can be the most wonderful time having a baby. However, it is not always this way and it can be very difficult to face feelings we were not expecting and to talk about this when perhaps those around us may be adjusting with ease and expecting us to be experiencing feelings of pleasure and joy about motherhood. It is common to experience some symptoms of depression in the few days after birth, which may be due to the dramatic change in hormonal levels after birth and this is often referred to as ‘the baby blues’, where new mothers often feel tearful. Postnatal depression is more severe and affects between 10-20% of women after childbirth. It also affects fathers and although there is less research with men, it is estimated between 4-25% of fathers may also experience postnatal depression. Anyone can be vulnerable to it. Depression symptoms are characterised by loss; loss of energy, motivation, concentration, interest, enjoyment, appetite, libido, feeling and love. With a new baby this often presents as a difficulty bonding with the baby or feeling no joy or love for the baby. This often leads to feelings of guilt, or worrying about not loving the baby enough, leading to anxiety or despair about feeling inadequate or unable to cope. This can be enormously distressing for new parents who may have been very excited about the prospect of becoming a parent.

There are a number of triggers associated with the onset of postnatal depression which include; hormonal changes, traumatic or difficult birth, history of depression, physical illness, baby ill-health or feeding difficulties, previous infertility or lack of support. The adjustment to parenthood can present many challenges. Most of us do not function well on lack of sleep and together with having the responsibility of caring for a baby, loss of freedom, control, time for ourselves, it can be very hard to adjust to.  

Embarrassment, confusion and shame often stops new parents talking about these feelings and seeking help. This can worsen the problem as they may become more isolated, dealing with it on their own and hiding their feelings. The good news is that postnatal depression can be treated, with support, psychotherapy and sometimes antidepressants are recommended. The sooner help is sought; the sooner the person can be helped to recovery. It is important to remember that this is an illness anyone can be vulnerable to, it is not the person’s fault and does not mean they are a bad parent or will not bond or love their baby. It is the illness that is the problem and it can be treated. The first step is to talk about how the problem. Most people respond well and begin to recover with emotional and practical support from a partner, family, friends, health visitor or therapist. I have a special interest in this area, supporting parents so they can bond and enjoy parenthood. Helping the person with postnatal depression helps the whole family unit, the bonding between parent and baby and therefore the baby to have a good start to life.

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