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Postnatal depression: Recognising the causes and symptoms and how to get help

Postnatal depression (PND) can affect moms and dads, can occur after the first, last or after all pregnancies. While there are no known causes as to why some moms get PND, there are factors that put some people at a greater risk than others.

First-time moms are at a higher risk of getting PND as the drastic physical, social, emotional and hormonal changes that come with having your first baby can cause depression and anxiety. This can be greater if your expectations of motherhood are not being met.

A history of depression whether experienced by your immediate family (parents and/or siblings) or by yourself, this can also play a part in the likelihood of getting PND.

Birthing expectations vs reality can really surprise some women. When you spend nine months imagining the birth of your child, it can be hard to accept the reality. Perhaps there were complications during the birth or unpredicted medical issues for you and/or the baby. All this can negatively impact on a mother’s emotional and psychological health.

Relationship issues such as an abusive or controlling partner or family dramas, can all impact on a new mom’s emotional and mental well-being.

A complicated pregnancy is also a big risk factor whether it’s developmental issues with the baby, pregnancy-related health issues with mom, fertility issues and/or previous pregnancy loss. Being unable to control the outcome can lead to feelings of helplessness, anxiety and depression.

Lack of support from your partner or family and friends can also contribute to PND. Having to tackle motherhood alone is an extremely overwhelming and scary thought for most.

Financial problems, in general, can cause conflict between partners. When being faced with the responsibility of caring for an entirely dependent human whilst under financial strain, anxiety and depression can set in.

Symptoms of PND

Due to the relentless, tiring nature of motherhood, some moms can experience some symptoms of PND without having PND. So the diagnosis is dependent on how much symptoms interfere with daily life. Look out for persistent patterns of:

  • Anxiety surrounding the health or safety of the baby
  • Obsessive-compulsive thoughts or behaviours
  • Panic attacks characterised by heart palpations, difficulty breathing, physically shaking
  • Unpredictable mood swings
  • Feeling depressed, teary or on edge for no reason
  • Losing interest in eating, socialising, being with family, your partner and baby
    • Lack of sleep or sleeping constantly
    • Getting angry or irritated easily
  • Feeling exhausted and having no energy
  • Lack of concentration
  • Participating in irresponsible and risky behaviour
    • Thoughts of harming yourself and/or your baby.

Motherhood has good and bad days. If it feels like it’s just all bad, seek help immediately as the earlier the better for your recovery. There are many effective treatments for PND, depending on the severity of symptoms and personal situation.

  • Support groups: if your symptoms are mild, in conjunction with seeing your GP, you may find it is helpful to seek out support groups where you can share experiences and similarities between each other. For more information contact your local community health centre.
  • Counselling: there are two very effective types of therapies used in treating PND:
    • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): CBT identifies and challenges negative thinking that becomes automatic over time, causing you to feel worse. With professional help, you can learn how to identify, rationalise and challenge these negative thoughts and beliefs about your experience of motherhood. CBT also involves goal orientation, that encourages you to identify and seek out the upsides in your life giving you a more positive association with motherhood.
    • Interpersonal therapy (IPT): Works by looking at possible life events associated with PND. Perhaps you’ve experienced previous loss or traumatic events. IPT provides you with strategies to resolve the feelings associated with these events.
  • Antidepressants: Unfortunately the above treatments may not work for you. It is important you visit your GP to have a conversation and assessment of the severity of your symptoms. Your GP may refer you to a mental health professional in conjunction with antidepressants.

If you suspect you have PND, see your GP as soon as possible, help is available. 

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