Following the birth of a baby our society expects us to be aware of the physical changes and possible treatments needed, for example, if stitches were needed there will be subsequent caution about infection or lifting. Yet, we still are not giving as much attention to the mental health of new mothers as we need to.  Usually expectations are that ‘you will be fine’ and other than feeling tired through perceived loss of sleep, a new mother will be ‘back to normal’ within a few weeks.

In reality, the woman now has a new ‘normal’ and this can take more adjustment for some new mothers than others.  Due to the stigma that often surrounds mental illness, many women suffer in silence for fear of being judged a bad mother and that their child may be taken away from them.  This only happens in exceptional circumstances.  True statistics are difficult to be determine because of the range of postnatal mental health challenges and the reluctance of many to admit they are suffering.  It may be as many as 20% of new mothers, or even higher.

The good news is that there are a range of treatments available and a full recovery is possible. The earlier that help is sought and obtained, generally the quicker the recovery.   Although there are a range of risk factors for postnatal depression, for example, existing mental health conditions or a recent stressful event like a bereavement, it can happen even if everything has gone to plan and there are no causes.

For many women, they may become very tearful during the first few days post-delivery.  This is commonly known as the ‘baby blues’ and simply requires some practical support and kind listening.  After all the build-up to the birth and then being the other side of it, the sense of relief and a whole range of thoughts about the realities they now face, can cause the emotional upset.  For the majority of women this stage passes quite quickly and this is not postnatal depression.

If the instability of emotions continues for more than a couple of weeks, then the possibility of postnatal depression may have to be considered.

If you, or someone you know who has given birth within the last 12 months, shows any or some of these symptoms, it could be that they have developed postnatal depression:

  • Experiencing a roller-coaster ride of emotions
  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Aggressive and/or irrational behaviour and thoughts
  • Changes in appetite – over or under eating
  • Challenges in sleeping – too much or too little
  • Lethargy or over-activity
  • High levels of anxiety
  • Difficulty in bonding with the baby or being too possessive
  • Finding little or no pleasure in anything
  • Feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy
  • Problems in concentrating and making decisions

As the range of symptoms can vary in both severity and type in every woman, this can also mean that sufferers are reluctant to admit to how they are feeling and behaving.  From my own experience, I now recognise that if I had been more honest with myself and others about how I was truly feeling, I would not have become as ill I did.

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So I encourage you to be aware of these signs in new mothers (and also in new fathers) and to then be able to ask for help and support. Initially this is best via the GP, health visitor and midwife.  Remember that postnatal depression is an illness and can be treated. There is a support network available and you can get better if you take proactive steps in your own recovery.