Becoming a parent is difficult, both for the first time and when adding another child to your family.
There are many adjustments that need to take place and it can be hard to recognise when normal anxiety over the health and wellbeing of your baby or the ‘baby blues’ morphs into postnatal depression or anxiety.
Sleep deprivation, fatigue, and mood swings can be quite normal during this period, however, when it lasts for longer than two weeks and interferes with your day to day functioning (ie your ability to leave the house, look after yourself or your baby, or negatively impacts on your relationship), it may be time to seek some help.
Anxiety or depression that begins sometime in the year after birth is called Postnatal Anxiety or Depression, and it is estimated that it affects 1 in 7 mothers.
Common Symptoms of Postnatal Depression
Symptoms can range in severity and presentation and may include:
- Persistent worry
- Restlessness or feeling ‘on edge’
- Muscle tension
- Tightness in chest
- Heart palpitations
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty relaxing
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Low or flat mood, or mood swings
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Social withdrawal
- Difficulty concentrating
- Poor memory
- Low motivation
- Lethargy or fatigue
- Difficulty bonding, or a feeling of disconnectedness from your baby
- Obsessive thoughts and/or images
- Thoughts of harming self, others, or the baby.
Postpartum psychosis is rare and occurs in 1 or 2 in 1000 mothers. It involves a break with reality characterised by hallucinations or delusions, and most often involves thoughts of harming yourself or the baby. It usually appears in the first 48 hours to 2 weeks after childbirth, but can potentially appear up to 12 weeks after birth.
This condition is very serious and can pose a significant danger to both the mother and baby. It is important that if you think you or someone you know could be experiencing postpartum psychosis, that you seek help via your GP or hospital as soon as possible.
Treating Postnatal Depression or Anxiety
There are many treatment options available for mothers struggling with postnatal depression or anxiety. Behavioural strategies, such as maintaining a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and participating in enjoyable activities are great ways to improve your mood and ensure positive self-care.
However, these alone may not be enough to relieve symptoms. Seeing a registered psychologist who can provide strategies to identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts, sit with difficult emotions, and be more present in every moment can be helpful. In some cases, anti-depressant medication can be beneficial to assist with balancing chemicals in the brain and managing some of the symptoms that make it difficult to change behaviours.
If you are struggling with feelings of postnatal depression or anxiety it is important to recognise that you are not alone, and there is help available.
If you are experiencing an increase in disturbing thoughts of need assistance urgently, please contact 000 or Lifeline on 131 114.