If you’re not ok, say
We know that during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period SO much is changing for a woman that it is hardly surprising that she may feel her mental health is affected. Feeling a little anxious about how birth will play out, considering the baby’s wellbeing once born and preempting how life as you know it may change will all get you thinking (sometimes a little too much).
After the baby is born it’s not unusual to feel on cloud 9 initially and pumped with the love inducing oxytocin, only to come down with an exhausted bump a few days later as tiredness sets in and your hormones try to rebalance themselves.
No matter how you have birthed your babe you are likely to feel rather fragile as your body begins the healing process. On top of that you have a tiny human who needs your care, around the clock. Tiredness can play a huge role in making you feel overwhelmed in those early days. There is a reason sleep deprivation was and is used as a form of torture.
Exhaustion can feel truly hideous and can stop you from having the energy and the motivation to do even the simplest task. Try not to get frustrated with yourself as you adjust and understand that as rewarding a motherhood is, it can also be incredibly tiring.
After the first couple of days with a new baby it is very common for new mums to experience a bit of a slump and feel quite low, often mentioning to us that they keep crying and are feeling very emotional but don’t exactly know why. This is likely to be the baby blues and affects about 80% of women to some extent.
Symptoms of baby blues can include the following:
- Tears that can be euphoric or terribly sad, but not being able to pinpoint why?
- Mood swings
- Overwhelmed by everything
- Experiencing a lack of concentration
- Changes in appetite and ability to rest
It’s hardly a surprise that you are likely to feel emotionally wobbly after birthing your baby, feeding a baby around the clock and adjusting to the huge hormonal changes that are occurring inside you. As with every issue to do with your mood, there is absolutely NO shame in feeling that way and talking about it can help a lot, even if it’s just to get a bit of reassurance.
The baby blues will usually pass within a few days and by the second week after your baby’s arrival, you should feel a little bit more in control once again. In the meantime see if someone close can take baby in between a feed so you can have a little downtime.
Try the following ways to help if you are feeling blue….
- Mindfulness relaxation tracks
- Music that anchors you in a calm state
- Lavender bath
- Keeping visitors to a minimal so you have time to rest
- Booking in for a postnatal massage so you feel nurtured
- Allowing partner, family and friends to help where useful
- Try using essential oils – Tangerine, Grapefruit, Bergamot, Geranium, Rose, Lavender and Sweet Orange are fantastic oils for the postnatal period. Avoid putting the oils on your skin, so that baby’s delicate skin doesn’t come into contact with them, but diffuse them in an oil burner to fill your room with their gorgeous fragrance, or add them to a tissue to sniff at your leisure.
- Try to fulfill your basic needs of good hydration and nutritious food where possible
- Talk about it with professionals, partner, family and friends
Post Natal Depression and Anxiety
Sometimes in the midst of the exhausting and overwhelming postnatal fog, we don’t seem to notice that at some point we really have stopped feeling OK. As women, we are so good at just getting on with it, blaming our mood on tiredness, being careful not to make a fuss and busying ourselves with the needs of others that we neglect to notice that we are not actually very well ourselves.
Postnatal depression and and/or anxiety affects approximately 1 in 10 women. The figures are likely to be a lot higher than this but many women never reach out so it is really hard to get exact statistics, but the bottom line is, it is very common. It can usually start from around 3 weeks after baby has been born and can either stem from pre-existing conditions or swoop in for the first time in your life, completely out of the blue.
The human brain is beyond complex and honestly, we don’t know exactly why postnatal depression, anxiety (and other conditions) affect some women and not others. Every woman’s brain will go through changes during pregnancy often making them feel a little fuzzy, sometimes referred to as having a ‘baby brain’. This is likely to be a very clever way that our minds change to make us less focussed on the complicated issues of life and more dedicated to meeting the basic human needs of our little ones.
Sometimes the human brain gets into a bit of a muddle. Perinatal mental health conditions are often linked to chemical or hormonal imbalances in the brain. There is research to suggest that during the pregnancy and the postnatal period, some women are extremely sensitive to reproductive hormones and this directly affects their mental health. This can develop into conditions affecting mum’s mood, anxieties, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Women who experience worrying thoughts and feelings might not want to talk openly about it for fear of judgement but consider this, you probably wouldn’t walk around on a broken leg and pretend that everything was ok? So why should you have to carry on with a debilitating condition that effects your mental health. However it is experienced, it is likely to make a new mum feel very unhappy and worried.
If you have been feeling any of the signs and symptoms below we highly recommend you talk to your health visitor or GP (postnatal depression often occurs once you have been discharged from midwife care).
Signs and Symptoms
Everyone will feel depression and anxiety in a different way so use the list below as a broad guide, you may experience only a few or many of these symptoms.
- Complete and utter overwhelm
- You don’t feel like you are connecting or bonding with your baby
- Your mood feels flat and joyless
- You feel confused because you have everything you wanted but you feel miserable
- You feel flat, empty, numb and you feel like you are just ‘surviving’
- You feel the lowest and saddest you have ever felt and you are frightened as you don’t understand why
- You have no appetite for food or you are constantly eating
- You cannot sleep and lie there overthinking everything in your life or you just want to sleep all the time and are finding it so hard to function from day to day
- You just want to leave your home and never come back
- You think your family would be better off without you
- You can’t think straight and everything feels confusing
- You think you must be losing your mind
- You have suicidal thoughts
- You are terrified by the unwanted intrusive thoughts
- You may experience panic attacks and might feel hot, sweaty, breathless, heart pounding, legs and arms numb or tingling and terrified that you are having a heart attack or stroke
- You feel deep dread and fear and honestly don’t know why, you just feel like something truly terrible is going to happen
- You may have intrusive frightening thoughts that appear to sweep in from nowhere, that you are going to harm yourself or your baby and then you feel terrified and this then sets your panic off again
- You can’t sleep and your mind feels wild and out of control
- You are frightened to be alone with your baby
- You are unable to sit still and are moving, cleaning or tidying constantly as your body is wired with an overload of adrenaline. You feel uncomfortable in your own skin
- You keep second guessing that things will not end well
- You are obsessed about becoming ill or your loved ones becoming ill
- You can’t cope and you don’t know what to do with yourself
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms we hope you don’t continue in silence, afraid to utter the words to your partner or a health professional for fear of what they will think. By opening up and sharing these thoughts and feelings you may actually disempower the terrible depression and anxiety by ‘calling it out’ so to speak, but most importantly you will be opening the door to the support and treatment which you may need. It is not enough to just be surviving and not feeling ok. You have the right to experience the joys that motherhood brings, so reach out and take the first step to recovering.
Further mental health resources
When we feel concerned about our physical or mental wellbeing, it can be tempting to search online for answers. Please be aware that if you are experiencing anxiety or depression, this can actually be quite triggering and unhelpful, especially if the information is not coming from a professional and reliable source. We have all had moments when we have visited Dr Google and self-diagnosed, but to get the right support you need to be accessing credited resources and information.
If you would like to find out more information and support please explore the following and follow links to sections about postnatal mental health:
- pandasfoundation.org.uk (PANDAS: Pre and Postnatal Mental Illness Information & Support)
- mind.org.uk (Mind)
- nhs.uk (NHS)
- apni.org (The association of postnatal illness)
- samaritans.org 08457 90 90 90 (Non-judgemental emotional support)