Three days into the the birth of my first baby I woke up fighting back the tears. I should have been happy, it was my 30th birthday, I had my gorgeous baby boy in my arms, my husband by my side, but I had also experienced a traumatic start to motherhood having lost my dad when I was six months pregnant.
My two day long labour, the overwhelming number of visitors, the sleepless nights, grief and the immense emotions coursing through my body had all left me physically and emotionally exhausted.
The weight of everything I had been through finally hit me that morning. For a few days after my 30th birthday I felt tearful, but my bond with my baby tightened even more. He was the little light in my life keeping me going while other things felt like they were falling to pieces from the loss of my dad.
Had the grief brought on postnatal depression or a tough case of baby blues, and what is the difference? Is feeling ‘down’ after giving birth a sign you are depressed when you think you should be feeling elated?
People had mentioned baby blues during my pregnancy, but I never felt entirely sure if it was real. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), up to 80% of women suffer from this phenomenon called baby blues in the first week after childbirth. It is normal and extremely common, but what is important to note is that the symptoms fade after a week or two.
Mary Nolan, Professor of Perinatal Eduction of the University of Worcester, explains: “The key marker for baby blues is that they’re transitory. Most women experience them for a day or two days and then their emotions re-balance (as do their hormones) and they’re fine again. The support someone suffering with baby blues needs is some extra love and understanding.”
Where Professor Nolan draws the distinction is that Post Natal Depression (PND) does not start in the first few weeks after having a baby, which is something that many people misunderstand. PND starts sometime later, perhaps after a few months after giving birth or sometime during the first year.
Signs of Postnatal Depression for mothers are:
Feeling miserable most of the time
Unable to take an interest in their baby, themselves or their family
Totally lacking in ‘get up and go’
Always worrying about their baby or other things
Feeling guilty that they are not ‘doing it right’ or being a ‘good mother’
Loss of appetite
Trouble sleeping or staying awake
No one is sure what causes it, however, women who have a history of depression are more likely to experience postnatal depression, as are those who were depressed during their pregnancy.
Professor Nolan adds that the treatment for PND requires more than a cuddle and extra love, although that certainly goes a long way: “Depression is something that needs to be treated through talking therapies such as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy for mothers whose depression may have been caused by difficulties in key relationships, and possibly antidepressants. There are lots of misconceptions about antidepressants, but they are not addictive, they will not work straight away, they have to be continued for months in order to maintain that improved mood. It is possible to take certain antidepressants while breastfeeding.”
Nothing can possibly prepare you for the sleep deprivation you experience as a new parent. Recovering from the birth, the pressure of feeding right, winding right, understanding what every cry and gripe is related to while at the same time giving the impression to the outside world that you know what you are doing is tough. But these emotions and this state of mind are a normal response to the overwhelming responsibility of motherhood.
Through all of the hard times I experienced in early motherhood what helped me most with my mental health was finding like minded mothers. People you can share stories with, support and build each other up.
Rest, a decent diet, some exercise and peer-group support can help to lift a mothers’ depression, but if you feel like you are not overcoming PND alone it is extremely important that you seek professional help through your doctor or health visitor.
My slogan clothing brand MAMA Life London has a bigger purpose of raising awareness on mental health issues through blogs and building a nonjudgemental community of sisterhood on social media.
Take a look at www.mamalifelondon.com and become a part of the community on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter (@mamalifelondon)
A special thanks to Professor Mary Nolan, editor of International Journal of Birth & Parent Education www.ijbpe.com, for her expertise with writing this blog.