The birth of a baby is an extraordinary moment, full of wonder, excitement and uncertainty. The days, months and years that follow can be challenging, and for some women, they can be filled with feelings of dread, self-doubt and depression. Postnatal depression is a debilitating mental condition, and it is estimated that as many as one in seven women in Australia may develop the condition after the birth of their baby.
Symptoms of Postnatal Depression
The symptoms and severity of postnatal depression will vary between women, but the following is a list of the most common signs and symptoms that doctors see in patients with the condition:
- Uncontrollable mood swings, encompassing a range of emotions from anxiety and anger, guilt and hopelessness
- A lack of interest in hobbies or activities that were once enjoyed
- Excessive crying
- Unusual changes in weight
- A lack of appetite
Feeling tired or experiencing occasional mood swings are part of a normal day to day existence, especially when you have a new baby, however if you’re suffering from more than one or two of these symptoms and you feel like it’s affecting your mental wellbeing, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Like depression, postnatal depression can have a number of causes. After years of research, doctors believe that one of the most likely causes is the changes in hormone levels that women experience during pregnancy and then after giving birth. Your estrogen and progesterone levels fall after childbirth, and it’s believed that hormones relating to your thyroid can also have a negative impact on your emotional wellbeing.
Another factor that is known to contribute to postnatal depression is the overwhelming demands of motherhood (especially for first time mothers) such as a lack of sleep, money issues, less interaction with friends and family and feelings of isolation and loneliness. These problems might not just exacerbate your negative emotions, but they may also prevent you from seeking treatment.
For some women, the experience of a traumatic birth can be enough to bring on the symptoms of postnatal depression – including if it’s a premature birth – or if the child is born with physical disabilities.
Unlike decades ago, when most women with postnatal depression would suffer quietly in silence, nowadays the medical community and the world at large recognise the issue as a serious mental condition, one that generally requires treatment.
As with all mental conditions, the first real step to treatment is to recognise you have an issue. Unfortunately most of us are proud, and don’t like to admit we are struggling to cope. This can be particularly difficult when you’re responsible for a baby. The good news is that there are many postnatal depression options – often just finding others who are experiencing similar symptoms shows that you’re not alone.
Talking with friends and family is also a fantastic way to get the support you might need, especially if they can help alleviate some of the stresses you’re experiencing – for example, looking after the baby while you get some much needed sleep or helping you to go out and socialise. It’s also known that activities such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture and deep breathing can help to relax and focus your mind away from the negative thoughts, as well as help with your physical symptoms.
If you’ve tried these options and are still showing signs of postnatal depression, it’s important to talk to your doctor and get professional help. They may refer you to a psychologist or recommend a range of other treatments such as medication and counselling. The treatment options will depend greatly upon the level of depression and your individual circumstances, which is why it’s always a good idea to go and talk to your doctor or medical professional.