The ‘Baby Blues’ is a common experience for most women for a few days after having a baby. New motherhood is a daunting transition and at times can feel overwhelming. Some ups and downs are expected and appropriate. A new mother’s body is recovering from birth, there are significant hormonal changes, interrupted sleep can feel intolerable, and you may not always be sure about what your baby needs from you.
Postnatal depression or anxiety however, is a more serious mental health condition that can begin within 4 weeks of having a baby. The symptoms of depression occur for longer than two weeks and impact on areas of day-to-day functioning such as relationships, bonding with your baby, or self-care tasks such as hygiene. A personal or family history of depression can place you at a higher risk of developing postnatal depression. Data from the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey showed that 1 in 5 (20%) mothers of children aged 24 months or less had been diagnosed with depression.
It also important to remember that fathers and other caregivers can also experience post-natal depression. It is estimated that 1 in 10 fathers in Australia experience postnatal depression or anxiety. This can impact on their ability to interact with their child, support their spouses, or just complete everyday tasks.
Here are a few signs and symptoms of post-natal depression to look out for:
- Experiencing difficult emotions such as feeling restless, irritable, sad, flat, hopeless, overwhelmed or empty
- Having no energy or motivation to initiate or complete tasks
- Eating too little or too much; or experiencing a change in appetite
- Sleeping too little or too much; or feeling tired or fatigued
- Losing interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Having trouble focusing or making decisions
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Having difficulties concentrating or with memory
- Having physical symptoms such as headaches, aches and pains, or stomach problems
- Feeling worthless, guilty, or like you’re not doing a good-enough job as a mother
- The relationships with your baby may be impacted where you may not have as much interest in spending time with the baby, not feeling connected to the baby, or feeling worried about being alone with the baby. You may notice being less responsive, emotionally detached, and maybe feeling as if you are unable to soothe the baby.
- In severe cases, women may have unusual beliefs such as thinking that your baby is someone else’s baby or that there is something wrong with your baby. In these severe instances, there may be thoughts of hurting the baby or oneself. In these instances, it is imperative to get immediate professional assistance and possibly hospitalisation to ensure you and your baby are safe.
Reaching out for help or seeking treatment advice from a health professional such as a GP, midwife, psychologist or psychiatrist, can help new parents to adjust to the multitude of changes that parenthood brings. It is important to get the right kind of support so that you can really enjoy building a relationship with your new baby!
- Individual psychotherapy can help patients integrate their mothering role into their identity, and to access increased support from family members and friends
- Other forms of psychological interventions such as Parent Guidance or Parent-Infant Psychotherapy can be useful to help new mothers when difficulties in feeding, soothing, sleep and bonding are experienced
- Psychiatrists and GPs can assist with prescribing medications that can help ease depression symptoms that are also safe for breast-feeding mothers
SOME SELF-HELP TIPS:
Here are a few ways you can try to help yourself through the baby blues and the stressful start to being a new parent. If you find your symptoms are persistent however, please do reach out for help from health professionals. It is important to remember that with early intervention and treatment, research reports high rates of recovery for postnatal depression!
- Self-care: Try to include at least one, short activity during the day that allows you to fill up your own cup. This may be having a shower and washing your hair, or listening to an audiobook or music for a few minutes.
- Look after your physical health: Adequate restful sleep, healthy nutrition, moderate exercise, and getting some time outdoors are all important ways to help your body recover from birth and the hard work of feeding and caring for a new-born. Sleep deprivation or disruption can quickly take its toll on our sense of mental well-being. As much as you will need to adjust routines to fit with the sleep needs of a new-born baby, it is important to try to get as much rest as possible.
- Lean on others for help and support: Make your relationships a priority. Stay connected to family and friends—even if you’d rather be alone. Isolation often makes the situation feel harsher. Let loved ones know what you need and how you’d like to be supported.
- Don’t keep your feelings to yourself: Share what you’re experiencing with trusted friends and family members. New parents can sometimes feel guilty about struggling with parenthood and the expectation that one is supposed to have a blissful perinatal period. Being able to talk through your struggles can ease your burden and also perhaps generate some more realistic expectations for yourself and your baby! Join a mother’s group or talk to other new parents who are dealing with the same transition into parenthood. It can be reassuring to hear that other moms and dads share your worries.
- Find people who can help: Get assistance for extra tasks and responsibilities like childcare for older children, housework, and errands. This can free up space so you can get much needed rest or to just enjoy your time with your new baby.
- Keep a diary: Keeping track of your emotions, thoughts and experiences can be helpful to keep track of your progress as you begin to feel better and build a meaningful relationship with your baby.
- Give yourself credit: Being a parent is hard work! Remember to compliment yourself for the things you’re able to accomplish each day, no matter how small the success. Be kind and compassionate to yourself!
- Remember that no one expects you to be supermom!
Michelle Nortje (M.A. Clin Psych, B.Psych Hons, B.Ed.Psych Hons, BA) is focused on establishing a therapeutic relationship that is safe, trusting and supportive. Michelle aims to use integrated psychological tools and approaches in order to help her clients make sense of their difficulties, gain insight into their patterns of behaviour and relating, and work towards co-constructed and workable goals. She uses Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Positive Psychology, mindfulness-based approaches, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), Attachment theories and psychodynamic theories in order to tailor the therapy to best suit the client’s needs.
Michelle’s clinical training and diverse experience have equipped her to intervene in a variety of mental health issues and age groups. She has gained experience working as a clinical psychologist across non-profit, government hospital, school-based and private settings. Across all her roles, Michelle has expanded on her interest in working with children, adolescents and adults experiencing a range of mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, adjustment difficulties, trauma and grief.
Michelle is dedicated to consistent professional development by engaging in peer consultation groups, receiving regular supervision and expanding her knowledge through frequent webinars and courses in order to ensure effective interventions with her clients.