Having a baby is a huge and life-changing event for every mother. During pregnancy, women will experience many emotional ups and downs as their body changes and produces hormones above normal levels. Bringing a child into the world comes with so many emotions – excitement, apprehension, even fear – after all, having a baby to look after is a big responsibility.
Many new mothers feel low in the initial aftermath of giving birth; this is sometimes referred to as the ‘baby blues’ and is a natural response to the changing hormones in the body and affects around 85% of new mothers. However, if these low feelings do not abate after a few days or weeks, or if they begin to worsen, this may be a sign of postnatal depression.
Postnatal depression – the signs
Postnatal depression is a common problem, affecting more than one in ten women within a year of giving birth. It can also affect fathers and partners, with up to one in 25 new fathers becoming depressed after having a baby. Postnatal depression usually develops within six weeks of giving birth, and can range from relatively mild symptoms to very severe.
Common feelings experienced by mothers with postnatal depression include:
- Sad and low
- Tearful for no apparent reason
- Numbness or lack of emotion
- Being tired (more than would be expected after having a baby)
- Feeling unable to cope
- Becoming irritable and angry more often
- Feeling guilty and self-critical
- Being hostile or indifferent to your husband or partner
- Hostile feelings towards the baby
Other symptoms that may point towards postnatal depression include:
- Loss of concentration
- Disturbed sleep or inability to sleep
- Lack of appetite
- Loss of libido (sex drive)
- Suicidal thoughts
Postnatal depression – impact on relationships
Postnatal depression can be debilitating and can have a negative impact on many aspects of a new mother’s life. It can put strain on relationships with partners, friends and family as they may struggle to understand or empathise with the mother’s mental health condition. It is important for family and friends to be supportive, and offer as much assistance as they can.
Postnatal depression can also affect the bond between the mother and baby, with some new mothers feeling detached from their baby. Mothers with depression may be less sensitive to the needs of their baby, and may be less responsive to their baby’s communications. Family members, partners and friends should make extra effort to communicate with the baby at this time, as the mother may find it more difficult to do so while struggling with postnatal depression.
Supporting mothers with postnatal depression
Partners, friends and family need to be there to support the new mother if she is experiencing postnatal depression. The added responsibilities of raising a child are difficult, and the added strain of a mental health condition can leave some mothers feeling unable to cope. It is important to remember that feelings of depression are not permanent, and although they can feel overwhelming, they will not last forever.
Ieso Digital Health offers a free online talking therapy on behalf of the NHS. It is accessible, discreet and confidential. If you are a new mother struggling with postnatal depression, visit our website to see if you have a local provider.