Postnatal Depression is a feeling that you cannot cope. It is often accompanied by severe tiredness, a general loss of interest, poor concentration, irritability, insomnia, low energy and tearfulness. Usually around three to four weeks after the birth a new mother may mention to the GP, midwife or health visitor that she feels overwhelmed and this is the word that triggers alarm bells.
Postnatal depression is a disabling but treatable disorder that now represents one of the most common complications of childbirth. It has been estimated to effect 6.5 to 12.9 % of new mothers and the strongest risk factor has been shown to be a history of mood and anxiety problems and untreated depression and anxiety during pregnancy. The quick fall in the level of reproductive hormones after childbirth probably contributes to the development of depression in susceptible women and other reasons may include genetic factors, low social support, marital difficulties and negative life events.
A major symptom of postnatal depression is sleep disturbance beyond that associated with the care of the baby during the night. Mothers can also have an obsessional preoccupation with their baby’s health and feeding. They can also worry about causing harm to their baby and they may, in the worst cases, have suicidal thoughts.
A depressed mother’s care, bonding and attachment to her new baby can be impaired, so this may mean that the emotional, social and cognitive development of the baby can be effected. Treatment is therefore needed urgently and so it is so much better to talk about it and to get help as soon as you feel depressed. Treatment will depend on the severity of the symptoms. Mild depression may be treated with talking therapies: cognitive behavioral therapy, peer support counseling and psychological therapy. Medication is recommended for severe depression and if non-drug therapy does not work. These can be taken while breastfeeding as most pass into breast mild at a dose that is less than 10% of the maternal level. There are also alternative medicine treatments such as omega-3 fatty acids, folate, St. John’s wort, bright-light therapy, exercise, massage and acupuncture.
The best thing to do is to talk about it to your husband, partner, family and close friend and know that it is a treatable, natural consequence of childbirth for many women. See your GP and it will get better.