Firstly, it is important to distinguish between true postnatal depression and what is commonly referred to as ‘the baby blues’. The baby blues tend to last for just a few days, and they occur in the first week or so of your baby’s life outside the womb. Once you have been through childbirth, your body goes through some profound hormonal changes, and it is thought that these changes are responsible for the brief baby blues. You may feel like you are about to cry at several points throughout the day, you may be irritable, and you may feel directionless anxiety. However, these feelings are all extremely common, and you should be back to normal by the second or third week after childbirth (at the very latest).
Postnatal depression, on the other hand, is a more profound and serious condition that can last for months or (in the worst cases) even years. Sadly, it is thought that it strikes around one in ten new mothers. Read on to learn about the signs of postnatal depression, so that you will be able to recognise them in yourself or a loved one.
1) Acute anxiety:
You might feel edgy all the time and be unable to relax, constantly feeling as though something bad is about to happen to you. Alternatively, this anxiety might be directed towards your baby, manifesting in constant paranoia that the baby is ill, suffering from developmental problems, or in some kind of danger.
2) An inability to enjoy any aspect of life:
You may not smile at things that used to make you laugh, may no longer feel joy or affection when your partner makes a romantic gesture, and you might even not enjoy your favourite meals any more. This lack of enjoyment is a common symptom of all forms of depression, and postnatal depression is no exception. In some cases, a lack of desire to eat could lead you to stop eating as much as your body needs, which will only make your situation even harder (as you need constant sources of energy if you are to properly look after your baby).
3) Feeling like you just cannot cope:
Even if there is strong evidence to the contrary, if you have postnatal depression then you may believe that you simply can't cope with the pressures and demands of motherhood. You may doubt your ability to properly look after your baby, fear that you are doing everything wrong, and think that you will never be able to be a good mother.
4) Crying constantly:
You might find yourself crying all the time (with little or no provocation). You may start weeping if you drop something by accident, or burst into tears if you can't find something that you would normally take to be rather unimportant. Sometimes, you may not even know why you are crying. Most women with postnatal depression find that this symptom is particularly bad in the morning.
5) Poor concentration:
This problem might apply to everything from holding a coherent conversation to trying to organise your finances. You may also experience what could be described as ‘brain fog’, finding it especially difficult to think of the right words or the locations of things (such as your keys or your phone).
6) Panic attacks:
Panic attacks usually last for around ten minutes, and they involve feelings of fear so acute that they cause you to experience intense physical distress. The most common symptoms include a fast or irregular heartbeat, sweating, shaking, difficulty breathy, nausea, dizziness, and a sense of impending doom.
7) Extreme and pervasive lethargy:
Even if you think that you are sleeping well, you may feel exhausted all day long. Just doing simple chores may leave you feeling as though you cannot keep your eyes open, and you might start alarming yourself by doing things such as falling asleep at the wheel of your car.
You might toss and turn all night, feeling exhausted but unable to sleep. Alternatively, you might find that you feel tired until you actually get into bed (when you suddenly feel wide awake once again).
9) Feelings of intense sadness or apathy:
Some women with postnatal depression experience constant and deep misery, while others feel as though they have ceased to care about anything at all (and experience feelings of flatness or apathy).
10) Feeling hopeless:
Postnatal depression often involves feeling so hopeless that you find it incredibly hard to imagine having a happy or enjoyable future. This will usually be because you feel inept and ineffectual when it comes to the tasks required by motherhood (and because you struggle to imagine being the good and loving mother that you always wanted to be).
11) A lack of interest in your baby:
When you suffer from postnatal depression, you will often find it hard to care about your new baby in the way that you feel you ought to. You might feel dissociated from it, finding it hard to recognise the child as truly being your child. You may also feel afraid or angry when it cries.
If you think that you might be suffering from postnatal depression, it is important that you seek help. You are not responsible for the fact that you have developed this condition, and it does not mean that you are an unfit mother or a bad person.
You should start by explaining to your partner (or another family member) that you are worried that you might be seriously depressed. Next, you need to make an appointment to see your doctor.
For support or further information on post natal depression contact the Post Ante Natal Depression Association on 1300 726 306 or visit their website: http://www.panda.org.au/