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The Signs and Symptoms of Postnatal Depression

By: Shelley Nortje (Clinical Psychologist)

Many mothers believe that they should feel completely happy and content when they give birth to their newborn baby. Mothers may avoid talking to family and friends about their difficult feelings or concerns of not coping, because they may worry that others will judge them for not managing. Some mothers believe that they should be perfect and never make mistakes. However, for many mothers, the start to motherhood comes with difficult emotions and experiences. Looking after a new baby is full of challenges, stresses and responsibilities!


The baby blues:

Most women feel a bit low, tearful or worried in the first week or two after giving birth. This ‘baby blues’ period is quite common. The start to motherhood is a difficult time of adjustment. For example, hormones are fluctuating,  sleep patterns  change, there are the complexities of breastfeeding or bottle feeding, and the marital relationship also shifts into the new role of the parental couple.

Post-natal depression:

Sometimes these ‘baby blues’ become more serious, and the difficult feelings don’t dissipate. When these difficult emotions continue for longer than two weeks you may be suffering from post-natal depression. It is important to make sure that you are able to access enough support and assistance. Post-natal depression may not always start immediately after your baby’s birth and can still occur later in the baby’s first year of life. Sometimes the symptoms start gradually, and sometimes they start all of a sudden. The symptoms of post-natal depression can affect your everyday life and especially your relationships with your baby, family and friends. Even fathers and partners can become depressed after the birth of a baby. It is important for family members to communicate with each other about all your experiences at this time.

The signs of post-natal depression:

  1. a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood

  2. loss of interest in the world around you and no longer enjoying things that used to give you pleasure

  3. lack of energy and feeling tired all the time

  4. trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day

  5. feeling that you’re unable to look after your baby

  6. problems concentrating and making decisions

  7. loss of appetite or an increased appetite (comfort eating)

  8. feeling agitated or irritable

  9. feelings of guilt, hopelessness and self-blame

  10. difficulty bonding with your baby with a feeling of indifference and no sense of enjoyment in the relationship with the new baby

  11. frightening thoughts about hurting your baby

  12. thinking about suicide and harming oneself

  13. frequently crying for no obvious reason

  14. having difficulty bonding with your baby, and looking after them only as a duty and not wanting to play with them

  15. withdrawing from contact with other people

  16. neglecting oneself, such as not washing or changing into clean clothes

  17. losing all sense of time, such as being unaware whether 10 minutes or two hours have passed

  18. constantly worrying that something is wrong with your baby

What to do if you think you may be suffering from post-natal depression:

  1. If you think you may be depressed please seek help with your GP or community clinic as soon as possible so you can access the support you need. Post-natal depression can continue for months or years if not addressed correctly.

  2. Try to help family members and friends understand how you are feeling and what they can do to support you.

  3. Allow others to help out with daily chores such as housework, cooking and shopping.

  4. Try to make some time for yourself doing activities that you find relaxing (such as going for a walk, exercising regularly, listening to music, reading a book or having a warm bath or shower).

  5. Try to get enough sleep. Although newborns wake often during the night, try to follow healthy and consistent sleeping habits, and if possible, even ask your partner to help when the baby wakes in the night-time.

  6. Try to follow a healthy lifestyle by eating regularly and doing exercise.

  7. Find out if there are any local support groups running in your area, to be able to access support from other mothers who are experiencing similar difficulties.

  8. Psychological treatments and parent-infant therapy (PIP) may be a helpful way to manage your difficult feelings and assist with the bonding process with your new baby.

  9. In some more severe cases, medications, such as anti-depressants, may be recommended. If you are breastfeeding remember to discuss this with your doctor, as not all anti-depressants are safe to take while breastfeeding.

At Ububele, we hope to support mothers in this new and complex role, and to strengthen the developing relationship between mothers and their babies. If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you, please contact us for assistance or an appropriate referral (Tel: 011 786 5085).

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