Having a baby is a major life change, and many women find becoming a mum more difficult than they thought it would be. Adjusting to all the changes throughout pregnancy, birth and the early weeks and months can lead to anxiety and depression.
Postnatal Depression & Anxiety
In my opinion there are two different experiences of women that are both commonly referred to as ‘postnatal depression’.
One is largely about the relationship between the mother and baby; in this situation the main concern of the mother (and those around her) is her relationship with her baby. These mums feel as though they are not ‘bonding properly’ with their baby and are usually also experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety such as nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, appetite disturbance, and/ or feelings of sadness
These women may also think and feel:
that they don't like their baby;
as though they cannot care for their baby properly;
that other people would do a better job looking after the baby;
as though they should never have had children;
that they’re not enjoying their baby at all;
feelings of 'numbness' or 'detachment';
that they want to 'run away' from everything.
The onset of these symptoms tends to be in the first four months post-partum and are often severe enough to disrupt normal family life. Other people (partner, family member or health professional) usually notice this sort of postnatal depression.
In the second sort of experience the parent's main concern is not the developing relationship with the infant, but rather her new role and 'new life'.
These mums are happy with their new baby (in fact they can feel quite besotted), but not so with their 'new life' as a mum. They report feeling connected to and bonded with the baby, but also report high levels of anxiety and/or low mood. Often times it's difficult for these clients to keep up with what they think is expected of them, and they might also feel:
very anxious and worried about the baby;
anxious and worried about 'getting it right';
'inadequate' - like nothing they do is quite good enough;
teary, or close to tears more often than usual;
fearful of being home alone with the baby, or of taking the baby out anywhere;
low in mood, sad and dissatisfied;
lonely and isolated.
The onset of these symptoms begins sometime in the first two years post-partum and may or may not be noticed by others around the client. New mums often try to keep these feelings to themselves, probably thinking that they 'should' be enjoying the role of motherhood more.
This type of ‘post-natal depression’ may also be experienced by new fathers.
Who experiences postnatal depression and why?
Estimates vary on how many women experience postnatal depression and this is in part due to different definitions of postnatal depression. It's estimated that at least 1 in 7 women experience some form of emotional difficulty following childbirth.
Health professionals still really do not understand fully why some people experience postnatal depression and anxiety and some do not, but some risk factors that have been identified through research include:
A personal or family history of depression or anxiety
A history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
Relationship difficulties with partner or family
The recent experience of a stressful life event (such as moving house, losing a job, a death in the family, divorce or separation etc.)
Poor support from family and friends
A traumatic birth experience (such as an unexpected c-section, a very short or long labour)
Having a ‘difficult’ baby
Having a baby with some sort of medical or physical problems
These are some risk factors that have been identified, however some women may have all of these risk factors and not experience perinatal depression or anxiety, and some women may not have any and still experience PND.
This is a serious condition that occurs in a small number of women in the days and early weeks following the birth of a baby. Postnatal psychosis requires immediate medical assistance. For more information, click here.