Advice on coping with post-natal depression
When someone is pregnant, they’re presented with a picture by the media and people around them of how life should be: a perfect delivery, a perfect baby, and then a perfect family. However, even if everything goes well with the birth and your baby is healthy, there’ll probably be moments you’ll feel deflated, anxious, upset or low – often due to the emotions and changes that coincide with becoming a mum.
The arrival of a baby is a massive transition. It has a ripple effect through everything, impacting routines, finances, work, relationships, sleep...and probably things they never imagined! Add to this the fact that a new mum’s hormones are all over the place, and it’s no wonder many women get the baby blues a few days after birth.
Meanwhile the world is telling her that what’s happening is the best thing ever! This can make it difficult for her to tell people that actually she’s struggling, and it’s harder work than she thought.
Sometimes the baby blues can develop into postnatal depression. One in 10 women will experience this, according to the NHS. Again, hormones play a major part, but it can also be affected by the ongoing disruption or difficulties experienced by a mum in her new role.
If you’re feeling low after having a baby – or worried that you might – here’s some advice that could help you cope.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. When you’re preparing for the birth, avoid getting too fixated on ‘doing it well’. It’s a good idea to build flexibility into your birth plan; you can’t control things, and if it’s too regimented it might become stressful if things go in a different direction. There’s a lot of focus on giving birth ‘naturally’ – but remember the aim is to have your baby, however this ends up happening!
After the birth, recognise just what a major upheaval you’re going through; be gentle with yourself, and pace yourself. Not being at work, or even being able to get out of the house when you want to, can be hard. You don’t have the same freedom or control over your life as you used to. This can be isolating, particularly when your partner goes back to work, and the constant flow of visitors slows.
Chances are you’ll experience a mixed bag of emotions and thoughts. A dip in mood is normal – you’ll have spent more than nine months planning and anticipating, and suddenly the baby’s here. It can feel like a shock, and even a bit of an anti-climax!
Remember it’s not just you. Be aware that what you’re feeling and thinking is very common for new mums, and it definitely doesn’t mean you don’t want or love your baby! It’s important not to feel guilty about what’s going through your mind.
It’s good – and essential – to talk openly. While it may seem impossible to tell anyone what’s happening when they’re all so happy for you, it’s definitely OK to bring it up and talk about it. Talking to your partner, your mum, other mums you know or your GP will help you adjust to your new way of life.
Make contact, even if you’re feeling down. It’s important to get out and be with other mums, perhaps your NCT group or a local baby and toddler group, so you can share your experiences.
Seek help if you need it. Talk to your GP, nurse or midwife about your feelings if you’re really struggling, and think you might need support.
If you have a friend or family member who’s having difficulties, there are some things you can do to help.
Give practical support. Drop meals in, offer to watch the baby for a couple of hours so she can have a nap, or ask if she wants anything picking up from the shops.
Stay in touch. If she’s really busy and stressed it’s easy to assume she’d prefer you to keep out of the way, but it’s important to let her know you’re there. Send regular messages that don’t require a response – reassure her she’s doing a great job, remind her you’re around if she needs anything. If she’s keen to get out, say “let’s go for a walk”.
When you visit, pay attention to the parents as well as the baby! Talk about them and how they’re doing. Discuss normal everyday things and reminisce about times before the baby arrived; this will help to ease the ‘shellshock’ they might be feeling by keeping their connection to their ‘old life’ and reminding them the world is still there!
Share your own experiences. If you or someone you know has been through something similar – finding motherhood tough, or feeling a mixture of excited and down at the same time – let her know. This will show her you ‘get it’, and that what she’s feeling is a normal part of having a baby.
Emphasise that postnatal depression can be treated. Encourage her to talk to her GP, and offer to go with her if she’s feeling daunted.
If you’re struggling after the birth of your baby, even if you had your baby a while ago, you might find it useful to have cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Often we can get stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts and behaviour, and CBT can help you to break this cycle. It’s really important with post natal depression that you seek help as soon as you can, so you may find online CBT a useful option as there is no waiting list and you don’t need to attend appointments in person. Find out more about what CBT is or what to expect with online CBT.