Treatment of postnatal depression
Baby = Happiness, or does it?
Have you heard a woman say that her life won't change much once she's had a child? That the child will fit into her lifestyle? Although I've heard this from childless women, I've never heard someone with a child say it! The reason? The birth of a child leads to many changes in a woman's life, from the change in the relationship with the father of the child to the way in which her days are spent. Even when a child is very much loved and wanted, these changes can cause much distress and be difficult to cope with.
Some women are unprepared for these losses and for the work involved in caring for a baby. This may lead to feelings of resentment towards the baby or of shame about not living up to the image of the perfect mother. For around 15% of mothers these feelings may lead to the development of Postpartum Depression (also commonly known as Postnatal Depression).
Postnatal Depression is different from the baby blues, which tends to occur in the first week or two following the birth and lasts only a few days. Although Postnatal Depression may be shortlived for some women, it may persist for years for others when untreated. Women with Postnatal Depression may experience low mood, anxiety, guilt and irritability, and feel worthless, hopeless and inadequate. Their energy levels may be low and they may have difficulty sleeping, confused thinking and/or thoughts about death or suicide.
Most women who develop Postnatal Depression do so in the first 3 months after the birth, although for some it may not appear until 6 to 8 months postpartum. The following are risk factors for developing Postnatal Depression:
• a previous history of depression or other emotional difficulties
• life stress during pregnancy or a difficult birth
• difficulty caring for the baby
• a lack of sufficient support from others
• financial problems
• relationship problems
• high achievers and a history of feeling in control
So what can you do if you believe you are suffering from Postnatal Depression?
Try to engage in more pleasant and self-nurturing activities. Some of these you may be able to do with your baby or partner, such as having a warm bath or going for a walk. However, try to organise for childcare, friends or family to look after your child occasionally so you can have some time by yourself. If you start to feel guilty spending time away from your child, remind yourself of the instructions you hear when you board an aeroplane – if the airbags come down, first place the mask on your own face before looking after your child. You will be better able to look after your child if you look after yourself.
Try to do some exercise and eat balanced healthy meals.
Develop a support system of friends, family and/or health professionals and accept offers of help. Remind yourself that you don't always have to manage alone. Tell people, especially your partner, how you feel.
Allow yourself to cry if you feel like it. Try to not bottle up your feelings.
Learn relaxation skills, such as progressive muscle relaxation and slow breathing. Visualise relaxing scenes, such as a beach or favourite holiday destination, imagining what you would see, hear, feel, smell and touch.
Become skilled at challenging any unrealistic or unhelpful thoughts you may be having and try to look at situations in different ways. For example, rather than focusing on the times in which you have been unable to settle your child easily, focus on the times that you have been successful. This may assist you in not only remembering techniques that have helped in the past but also allow you to feel more competent as a mother and more content.
And finally, one of the most important activities in which you can engage, is to challenge any unhelpful beliefs you hold regarding motherhood and to establish a more realistic and helpful set of beliefs. For example, some of the more commonly held (but not necessarily correct) beliefs are (1) motherhood comes naturally, with new mothers instinctively knowing what to do, (2) a mother instantly feels love for her baby, and (3) a mother is selfish if she expresses her own needs. The skills of being a good mother, like any other skill, needs to be learnt and can take some time to develop. Also, children differ, with some being much easier to care for than others. They also change over time – at some ages children are easier to look after than others.
If you continue to suffer, please do not hesitate to contact me on 1800 768 411.
If you have any thoughts of suicide, seek help immediately.