Postnatal depression is the name given to depression that develops between one to twelve months after the birth of your baby. It affects one in seven women who give birth in Australia each year.
Unlike the “baby blues”, which typically begin within the first two to three days after delivery and last for up to two weeks, postnatal depression can be long-lasting (beyond twelve months) and can also re-emerge in a later pregnancy if it is not treated effectively initially, affecting your ability to cope with the demands of a new baby.
The symptoms of postnatal depression can make it difficult to engage in joyful parenting.
Newborns are very sensitive to the care they receive, and depression can have an impact upon the interactions between mother and baby, making it difficult for mothers and babies to bond. Mothers who experience postnatal depression may not be able to provide reliable responses to their infant when feeling miserable and anxious.
What causes postnatal depression?
There is no single cause of postnatal depression. It is likely to be a result of:
- Genetics and family history
- Antenatal depression or a history of depression
- Hormonal changes
- Your personality and way of thinking
- Features of your environment that influence your emotional wellbeing
- Major life changes or events
- Limited support from partner/family
A combination of these factors may make your risk of developing depression higher. There are also factors that protect you, such as having good support networks.
What are the symptoms of postnatal depression?
There are many signs that someone may be struggling with postnatal depression. It is also common to experience symptoms of anxiety at the same time as depression.
Symptoms may include:
- Abrupt mood swings and/or having a very low mood
- Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health or safety of the baby
- Having a sense of hopelessness about the future
- Feeling inadequate or a failure as a mother
- Feeling constantly sad or crying for no reason
- Loss of interest in things that would usually bring joy
- Feeling exhausted, empty or worthless
- Having trouble thinking clearly, concentrating or making decisions
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Having trouble sleeping, or having nightmares
- Fear of being alone with the baby
- Losing interest in intimacy
- Changes in appetite and/or significant weight loss
- Having thoughts of self harm or harming the baby
In some cases, women may experience thoughts about leaving their family or worried that their partner may leave them. If you are experiencing a number of these symptoms that last for two weeks or more in the first year of having your baby, you may be experiencing postnatal depression.
Treatment for postnatal depression
The type of treatment that is suitable for you will depend on your situation, symptoms and the treatments available.
Psychological Therapies : include cognitive behavioual therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapies (IPT) which teach coping strategies to help manage feelings of depression and improve mood. Mother-infant groups and/or group therapy are also helpful for many women.
Medication : Doctors may recommend antidepressant medication for postnatal depression, that can be safely used while breastfeeding. For many people, medication is taken in conjunction with psychological treatment.
Hospital Admission : In some cases, women may be admitted to a Mother and Baby Unit if a mother is experiencing severe depressive symptoms. These units provide a safe space and support for the mother, and mother and baby can stay together in an inpatient setting.
Strategies for postnatal depression
Seek help and treatment Speak with your GP or Child Health Nurse, learn about effective treatments, seek appropriate treatment depending on severity of symptoms.
Help at home Ask for and accept help from others, develop a strong support network, get emotional support by discussing your feelings with family and friends.
Look after yourself Try to eat healthy meals, exercise daily, establish good sleeping patterns, practice meditation and/or relaxation techniques.
If you think you might have postnatal depression, getting early professional help is important.
There are many people and services you can go to for help:
- Your GP
- Obstetrician or midwife
- Child and family health nurse
- Local community health centre
- Cottesloe Counselling Centre
- National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression (PANDA) Helpline – call 1300 726 306
Cottesloe Counselling Centre
11 Brixton Street Cottesloe, 6011
For further information call Cottesloe Counselling Centre (08) 9278 6578
Or email us [email protected]