Your baby’s barely been born when visitors start queuing up. You have to welcome them into your home, look after your newborn, keep everything tidy and take care of the rest of your family.
In the weeks after childbirth the pressure of keeping up can start to become too much for you, leaving you exhausted and depressed. For some women the feelings persist and escalate into postnatal depression (PND).
What is postnatal depression?
It occurs in some women after a pregnancy. Motherhood is a big adjustment for most women; some are overcome by anxiety and become depressed, explains Cape Town clinical psychologist Nicole Roux. “It usually begins with overwhelming fatigue. Then moms often feel teary and depressed.”
The symptoms usually develop in the first three months after the birth, says Pam Gillingham, director of the Family Life Centre, but can last for up to a year.
- Depression and sadness
- Tendency to cry without reason
- Despondency and feeling you’re a bad or incompetent mother
- Disturbed sleep and constant fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- No interest in intimacy
- Thoughts of suicide or wanting to hurt yourself or your baby
Depression, or just a difficult adjustment?
For most mothers who are getting too little sleep, the responsibility of being a mom and adjusting to a new routine is a challenge. So it’s normal to feel tired and out of your comfort zone. But if you suffer the above symptoms severely and for a lengthy period and they don’t improve as you learn how to be a parent, it’s time to seek professional help.
How does depression affect my baby?
- Worrying about the impact of depression on your baby can make you even more tense, so it’s important to get help.
- Moms suffering from PND often struggle to bond with their babies.
- Depressed mothers who breastfeed often struggle with feeds.
How is it treated?
If you notice symptoms in yourself or a friend, it’s good to seek professional help, Roux says.
- Consult a psychologist or psychiatrist who’ll make a diagnosis and recommend treatment. A psychiatrist can also prescribe medication if necessary.
- Join a support group. It can be therapeutic to talk about your experiences and meet other moms with the same issues.
- Consult organisations that distribute information about PND and make people aware of the condition. The better informed you are the easier it is to handle.
How do I support a depressed friend?
Family and close friends will often detect the first symptoms of depression in a mom, Gillingham says, but Roux adds that moms can be hesitant to admit they need help. “If you see your friend is suffering, be proactive and talk to her,” she advises.
- Be sensitive and ask her if she wants to talk.
- If she’s reluctant to open up, suggest she consult her GP, a psychologist or psychiatrist.
- Make it clear you don’t think she’s an incompetent mom and her problems are normal.
- Offer to look after her baby so she can enjoy some free time.
- Spoil her and her baby by taking them out.
- Offer to help with household chores.
- Listen to what she has to say instead of just dishing out advice or being judgmental.
How do I help the mother of my child?
When a mom is struggling with the demands of motherhood, it can be a challenge for the father too, Gillingham says. Here’s advice for him:
- “Your support is important, as is the fact that you accept postnatal depression isn’t unusual and that it’s not a sign of parental incompetence,” Gillingham says.
- You should understand she couldn’t have prevented this condition and can’t just “get over it”.
- Try to ensure she gets enough sleep and more time for herself by helping her with tasks. Trying to balance lack of sleep and time to herself with her other responsibilities can contribute to a new mom’s depression.