Around the three to four month mark, some new mums may be thriving. Others, not so much. Aside from the more ‘common’ things many experience, like sleep deprivation, some may be experiencing feelings they didn’t expect to have as a new mum; low mood, anxiety and bouts of tearfulness.
Any of these can be an indication that something isn’t quite right, and they should never be ignored. So, let’s talk about post-natal depression (PND). Because it shouldn’t be something we’re scared of, or afraid to mention. With one in seven mums diagnosed, it happens to far more than you might realise. It happened to me, not on my first baby but my third. PND is very treatable and the sooner it’s diagnosed, the quicker a mum’s recovery usually is. So, all new mums, whether it’s their first or fourth baby, deserve to know what to look out for.
PND is different to the baby blues, which most women experience in the first couple of weeks after birth, as their hormones literally crash (usually around day four). It’s also more than feeling tired or occasionally low. PND is different for everyone but typical symptoms include frequent tearfulness, anxiety of any form (health anxiety and a fear of dying is common), panic (may include panic attacks), insomnia, extreme lethargy, trouble bonding with your baby (or detaching yourself from any other children you have) and a sense of doom or hopelessness.
It can also manifest itself physically with muscle aches, headaches and generally feeling unwell; when you’re very depressed, you can actually feel it. Another common factor is an overwhelming feeling that you just can’t cope, with things that never fathomed you before. It might be getting up in the morning, dressing yourself or your baby or doing the nursery/school run, if you have other children.
One of the cruellest things about PND is that when you’re in it you can’t always see you’re in it. You know you’re in a fog. You know you feel the worst you’ve ever felt. ‘But I’ve got a baby,’ you reason, ‘I’m not going to feel amazing, am I?’ Well, actually, yes you have got a baby but no, you shouldn’t feel like this.
I’m not ashamed PND happened to me. And no woman ever should be. It’s nothing we did. With a combination of antidepressants and cognitive behavioural counselling (CBT), I now have coping mechanisms I never would have developed without it.
So, if you’re reading this thinking, ‘this might be me,’ confide in a friend or speak to your doctor (ask them to do a full blood count to rule out another cause). They’ll discuss treatment with you, which may take the form of CBT or a combination of CBT and medication. Don’t be afraid if antidepressants are recommended. Sometimes after birth, the hormones are a bit wonky and your body fails to produce enough of the happy hormone, serotonin, so you need a little boost.
A few weeks in, and you’ll start to feel more like you, again. Be patient with yourself. Recovery takes time. But you WILL get better. And you’ll have coping mechanisms for life.
The APNI (Association of Post-Natal Illness) www.apni.org have some comprehensive online leaflets and you can also call them to be put in touch with a volunteer who has recovered from PND and can mentor you. Hearing positive stories can be very reassuring.
Amy Ransom is a mum of three and author of the Notebooks For Mum series, including bestseller, The New Mum’s Notebook, a reassuring companion to the first year of motherhood and the newly released organiser for the first year at primary school, The School Mum’s Notebook. All available from notebooksformums.co.uk.