The first few weeks after the birth of your baby is said to be one of the most challenging times for a new mum.
Your body will need time to recover from the change in lifestyle (i.e. a lack of sleep) and the realisation that you are now responsible for a new life can be terrifying.
Despite the challenges, having a baby in your life should make you feel happy and proud. However, there are some new mums who may feel the opposite.
This “down” phase which is known as baby blues is often temporary and is attributed to the huge hormonal change that happens in your body. If this phase goes on for more than two weeks, it is highly likely that this is the onset of postnatal depression.
What is postnatal depression?
Postnatal depression (PND) is an illness that is unlikely to subside as quickly as baby blues without help. According to Health Hub, PND affects one in 10 women who have recently delivered their baby.
Mums who suffer from PND often think of themselves as being weak or abnormal. PND usually develops within the first few months after delivery – more so in the first five weeks. However, it is not uncommon for PND to start at any time during the first year.
This depressive state can suddenly creep up or it could have started during pregnancy and did not disappear after the birth of your baby.
Signs of postnatal depression to look out for
Mums who are going through depression after delivery will show some obvious signs and symptoms. It is important to look out for these common symptoms of PND in new mums – it will go a long way in helping to save lives.
1. Cutting off contact
Mums with PND usually struggle to bond with their baby. This happens even when a mum is able to meet her newborn’s physical needs, such as feeding, changing diapers and putting the baby to sleep.
Some new mums also withdraw contact with their family and circle of friends as they do not want others to see them struggling with motherhood. Mums who are forced to stay home alone with their newborn during the first few months may also be susceptible to PND due to the loneliness of dealing with the changes.
2. Frequent crying
The first few weeks after baby’s arrival is an adjustment phase. It is normal for mums to feel tearful due to exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed with all the new changes, but if it persists for more than two weeks, it could be PND. At this stage, it is highly advisable to seek medical help and treatment.
Mums who go through PND may also experience postnatal anxiety which causes them to fret and imagine the worst scenario. Postnatal anxiety causes mums to feel paranoid and worried about something bad happening to their baby. They may also worry about something bad happening to themselves or their loved ones. This could lead them to check on their baby every few minutes to make sure that he/she is really fine and they may feel anxious about everything they do.
4. Being unresponsive
Mums who feel inadequate and emotionally overwhelmed may go about their usual tasks in autopilot mode, which leads to her being unresponsive. They may carry out their daily baby care routine, but they don’t seem to be present in the moment – both mentally and emotionally – for their baby.
At this point, the mum feels like it is too much and that she can’t handle it by herself. As a result, mum will be unable to meet her baby’s emotional needs such as cuddling and cooing, which actually helps to reassure the baby and benefit him/her emotionally.
5. Angry and negative feelings
Some mums may be able to hide their emotions well, but the things that they say can reveal their depressive state. Look out for a mum who always seems to be saying negative things about her baby or motherhood. Instead of looking lovingly at her baby, she may look angry and frustrated. In some instances, she could also yell at her newborn.
6. Scary thoughts
Postpartum psychosis (PPP) is the most severe form of PND, where a mum breaks away from the real world. She hears and sees things that do not exist and claims that there is something seriously wrong with her baby.
What’s interesting to note is that PPP is also the most treatable form of depression, as the mum will be put on medication and sedatives, which will make her feel better instantly.
On a less severe degree, PND can also make a mum develop thoughts of committing suicide. She might feel that things will never get better and it makes more sense to end it there and then. Although she may not talk about her feelings often, when she does bring up the topic of suicide, it is important that those around her take what she says seriously instead of brushing her off as overreacting. Being aware could be the first step to saving a new mum’s life and that of her baby.
Where to get help for postnatal depression?
For mums who would like to seek help to overcome PND, here are a few places that they can turn to for help: