Having a baby is stressful. From the surge in hormones to the sleep deprivation, it’s no wonder new mothers feel like they’re on an emotional rollercoaster.
But while it’s normal for mums to feel stressed and even teary and sensitive for a couple of weeks after baby has arrived, if these ‘baby blues’ symptoms continue or worsen, it may be a sign of postpartum depression – a much different phenomenon than postpartum blues.
Postpartum or postnatal depression (PND) is a serious mental health condition that impacts 1 in 7 women who give birth in Australia every year. It’s not limited to just mums, either. Fathers can also be at risk of PND, with up to 1 in 10 new dads experiencing depression during the pregnancy or after the birth.
It’s important to know the difference between baby blues and postnatal depression by familiarising yourself with common PND symptoms. Learning the signs of PND can be the first step to helping you or someone you know during this difficult time.
People can experience PND differently. It can take just a few days or several weeks for a new mother to develop PND, and it can range from a mild feeling of sadness to debilitating depression. New fathers are more prone to developing PND if their partner has it.
While the exact cause of PND is unknown, the physical, emotional and social changes that come with having a baby can definitely contribute.
Some of the common signs and symptoms of PND include:
- Feeling exhausted and having very low energy
- Having a very low mood a lot of the time
- Irritability and tearfulness
- Loss of confidence and self-esteem
- Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
- Feeling inadequate and a failure as a parent
- Sense of hopelessness about the future
- Feeling guilty, ashamed or worthless
- Feeling anxious or panicky
- Having trouble sleeping or sleeping for too long
- Worrying excessively about their baby
- Feeling scared of being alone or going out
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- Changes in appetite, either not eating or overeating
- Low sex drive
- Loss of interest in normal activities
- Withdrawing from close friends and family
- Not looking after themselves
- Finding it hard to get moving each day
- Struggling with everyday tasks like cooking or shopping
- Thoughts of harming self and/or baby.
How to Support Someone with PND
Seeing someone you care about struggle with PND can be painful. You might feel helpless and not know what to do, but there are a few ways to offer support and show you care.
Provide emotional support
It’s common for people to get excited about the baby and forget to ask how the mum/parents are doing. Don’t forget to check in regularly and be willing to listen. Simply lending an ear when they need to vent can make a huge difference.
Many new parents feel guilty opening up about the difficulties they’re facing, so if your loved one trusts you enough to share how they’re feeling, listen with empathy and understanding. Validate their feelings and let them know they’re doing a great job despite how hard it is.
Offer practical help
If there’s one thing new parents have in common, it’s that they could use a hand. Some new parents might feel uncomfortable or guilty asking for help. They might consider themselves ‘failures’ for not being able to handle everything on their own. But there’s a reason the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” has stuck around for so long.
Help with practical tasks like cooking, cleaning and watching the baby to give them a chance to sleep, shower, or simply eat a meal with two hands. Ask if they need help with any errands outside the home, such as picking up medication or grocery shopping. Anything you can do to lighten their load will help.
Help for PND
There are several treatment options for people experiencing postnatal depression. If you’re worried you or someone you know has PND, a GP can talk to you about a treatment plan appropriate for your situation. This might include a mental health care plan and referral to see a mental health professional, or medication that’s safe to take during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Our professional counsellors assist individuals, couples and families with a range of issues including anxiety, depression, relationship problems and parenting issues. You can learn more about our counselling services here, or call 1300 364 277 to make an appointment.
Discover the common relationship problems after having a baby and how to handle them in this blog post.