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Babies 0-12 Months | Mom's Wellbeing

Are you suffering from postnatal depression?

You should be on Cloud Nine, right?

All went (for the most part), according to plan: you endured nine long months of pregnancy, having tracked your baby’s progress week by week, taken your folic acid and followed your gynae’s advice. The nursery was set up, baby clothes bought, equipment sorted and the birth plan carefully arranged. Family and friends joined in your excitement and the countdown began… and finally your beautiful bundle arrived in the world. Nothing could prepare you for the incredible connection that you would feel for this brand new person. Your little one was brought home and you celebrated with your nearest and dearest. This is what you had been looking forward to for as long as you could remember.

So how can it be possible that you feel this empty, isolated, useless and sad?

If you’re feeling this way, the most important thing to know straight away is that you are not alone. Thousands of women throughout South Africa and the rest of the world are in the same miserable boat as you are right now. So make a cup of tea, grab a tissue or ten and read on. We’re here to help.



Spotting the Difference

It is perfectly normal, and often expected, for a new mother to be a bit on the moody side in the weeks following the birth of her baby.  Extreme hormonal shifts, overwhelming pressures and responsibilities as well as fatigue during this settling-in period all contribute to what is known as the baby blues, which may include the following:

  • Mild depression and sadness
  • Sudden crying spells
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability and fluctuations in mood
  • Low-concentration levels

Fortunately, these unpleasant (though common) symptoms are short-lived and subside without treatment within two to three weeks after the birth. For tips on how to wage war against the baby blues, scroll down to our battle plan.

Postnatal depression (also known as PND, postpartum or peripartum depression) is a more serious condition. Characterised by the following symptoms, swift and focused treatment of this illness is vital:

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness or loneliness
  • Feelings of guilt, despondence or worthlessness
  • Feelings of anxiety or irritability
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in life and everyday things
  • Poor memory, difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Disinterest in friends and family
  • Lack of libido
  • Fluctuations in sleep quotas
  • Lack of energy, motivation and positive thought
  • Feelings of ambivalence towards or disinterest in your baby
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, palpitations or nausea

If you are experiencing some or all of the above, you may possibly be suffering from PND.

In some cases, a severe form of postnatal depression can develop, usually within two weeks after birth.  Known as postpartum psychosis, this condition affects only 1-2 women in 1000. Those affected experience all the symptoms of PND, as well a heightened level of some or all of the following:

  • Delusional behaviour
  • Aggression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Turbulent, manic episodes
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Rapidly declining moods
  • Attempts to or fantasies about harming yourself or your baby

Postpartum psychosis is significantly more prevalent in those women whose history includes previous mental illness. This rare condition requires urgent medical intervention.

Occurrence and Causes of PND

Affecting an estimated 10-15% of new mothers within the year following their baby’s birth, PND is a globally-occurring emotional and mental condition that affects women in all socio-economic groups.

Research shows that estrogen and progesterone are the baddies here:  the sudden change in these hormone levels immediately after birth appears to trigger PND (similar to how hormonal changes cause mood swings prior to menstruation, but on a grander, much scarier scale).  Low thyroid levels can cause similar symptoms, in which case a quick blood test and medication is the way forward.

Hormonal influences aside, lifestyle changes can be factors in the development of PND:

  • Exhaustion caused by the delivery and subsequent broken sleep patterns
  • Stress from worrying about family, financial or work issues
  • Feelings of pressure to be the perfect mother and partner
  • Frustration at the loss of one’s sense of self
  • Low self-esteem due to changes in physical appearance
  • Anger at the loss of control of your time, body and emotions
  • Physical changes such as low blood pressure or fluctuation of metabolism

You are more likely to get PND if you have, or have had, one or more of the following:

  • Previous depression of any kind
  • Severe PMS
  • Lack of or no support from your partner, family or social circle
  • A sick, difficult or colicky baby
  • Family history of substance abuse or mental illness
  • Financial, relationship or social difficulties
  • Problems with previous pregnancies, births or subsequent child-rearing
  • Anxiety about the health or future of your baby
  • External stress and painful life experiences

Treatment Options for the Baby Blues and PND

While you may not feel like there’s much to be happy about right now, it should help to know that both the baby blues and postnatal depression are easily treated. Up to 85% of new mothers are affected by mood disturbances, and if they can come out of it unscathed, then so can you.  All you need is an action plan.

Postnatal psychosis, on the other hand, is a very serious illness and needs urgent medical attention, so if you suspect that you or a friend or relative may be affected, please seek professional help as soon as possible.

Beating the Blues
Symptoms of the blues are not nearly as severe as those of postnatal depression, and will generally subside without treatment within two weeks of childbirth. Having said that, there are a number of simple ways to make yourself feel better in the interim so that you can enjoy that precious dimply darling you’ve just brought into the world:

  • Take power naps whenever you can
  • Relax! Read a magazine, treat yourself to a pedicure, surf your favourite website, watch a favourite TV show
  • Accept help when it’s offered and ask when it’s not
  • Don’t be a martyr – nobody is handing out noddy badges, and nobody is putting pressure on you to be perfect, except you! You don’t have to be perfect, just content
  • Get up, get dressed, get groomed and get ready for the day… every day
  • Make a point of spending time with your partner and your friends
  • Talk about your feelings to whoever is willing to listen
  • Take each day as it comes, and enjoy the journey of discovery that makes motherhood so worth it
  • Focus on your nutritional needs by eating small, healthy meals throughout the day
  • Try to stay active – moderate exercise every day will make the world of difference

Punching the Lights out of PND
Postnatal depression can be difficult to live with, but the good news is that this condition can be treated.

Here are some options:

  • Implement our guidelines for alleviating the baby blues. These will help no matter what
  • Investigate your counseling options; make an appointment to chat to a psychologist
  • Consider antidepressants or hormone therapy; your GP will guide you through this process. If you are breastfeeding, you must mention this to your doctor before any medications are prescribed
  • Visit an alternative health practitioner. Acupuncture, massage and complementary medication could make you feel so much better
  • Join a support group
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices
  • Avoid isolating yourself from the rest of society
  • Focus on the positive
  • Take up a hobby and throw yourself into it
  • Remember to treat and pamper yourself, and give yourself a huge pat on the back for a job well done – nobody ever said that motherhood would be a walk in the park!

Good to Know

Although less common than either the baby blues or PND, new research has shown that paternal postnatal depression is on the increase.  Symptoms are very similar to those experienced by women, so it should be easy to spot. So don’t forget to check in on baby’s dad… chances are he’s fine and dandy and happy as Larry, but he could just be putting on a brave face, and may need some TLC as well.

Now you Know

Hopefully you can take a deep breath now that you know that both the baby blues and PND are treatable and manageable conditions.  Take that first step right now:  go for an energising walk; pick up the phone and call a friend; write a list of all the good things in your life; run a bath and soak for as long as you like.  Then take further action and promise yourself that PND was but a fleeting visitor in your newly expanded family, and that it’s time for it to get packing.

Further Reading

A practical self-help guide:
Postpartum Depression Action Plan

Print this one out and give your partner a copy (okay, maybe one for each room):
How to Help a Woman Survive Postnatal Depression


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