Having a baby is one of the biggest life-changing events that both men and women will ever go through. We all have dreams and expectations of how life will be once our new baby arrives, however it’s something that you can never fully prepare for and can sometimes be completely different from what you expected.
It’s completely normal for new mums to experience the ‘baby blues’ in the first week after the birth. This is due to changes in hormones levels and results in women feeling tearful, moody, anxious and overwhelmed. These feelings generally pass in a few days and are not the same as postnatal depression (PND).
When these feelings last beyond the early days after giving birth and continue to get worse, it may be a sign that you are developing postnatal depression. PND usually develops between one month to one year after the birth of a baby and can affect new dads as well as mums. In Australia PND affects 16% of all new mothers and 5% of new fathers. PND can be caused by a range of physical, social and emotional factors.
The range of symptoms of PND and their intensity will be different for every parent but can include:
- Persistent worrying, often focusing on fears for the health, wellbeing or safety of the baby
- Getting no pleasure from being with your baby, or feeling cold towards your baby, partner or your other children
- Having little or no interest in all the normal things that bring joy (like time with friends, exercise, eating, or spending time with your partner)
- Sleeping too much or finding it difficult to sleep
- Constantly feeling sad, down, or crying for no obvious reason
- Having panic attacks (a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
- Having thoughts of harming your baby
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember (people with depression often describe this as a ‘brain fog’)
- Constantly feeling tired and lacking energy
- Losing interest in intimacy
- Negative thoughts
- Low self-esteem and lack of confidence
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling angry and being easily annoyed or irritated
- Having thoughts of death or suicide
For those who have a loved one suffering from PND it can be quite a scary and confusing time and they are often unsure of what they can do to help. Although it is common for sufferers to withdraw from their partner, family and friends, the support of those closest to them is very important to their recovery. Some of the ways in which you can support someone with PND are:
Provide Practical Support
Parenting in general brings with it tiredness and mental exhaustion, but with PND these feelings are greatly intensified and getting everyday tasks done can be impossible. You can take some of the pressure off by offering to come around and help out with the household chores.
Doing a few loads of washing, cooking some healthy meals and cleaning the house will go a long way in lifting your loved one’s mood and mental state, and releasing some of the guilt about letting the housework slip.
Take The Baby
All new parents need some time out but even more so for those with PND. Those early days of being a new parent are intense and can result in physical and emotional fatigue. Offer to take the baby for a few hours so your loved one can catch up on some much needed sleep, take a nice long bath or just have some quiet time to read a book. A little rest or alone time can help them to reset and tackle the rest of their day.
Support Them In Their Treatment
PND is a serious mental health condition that should not be tackled alone. Encourage your loved one to seek professional help and support them in their ongoing therapy by being actively involved. This can be done by taking them to their appointments and supporting them in their treatment choices.