Recent research shows that three-quarters of women experiencing postnatal depression go undiagnosed – because they are ashamed to speak about their feelings.
But doctors say postnatal depression is a common condition that is easily treatable in less than six months.
To help you understand postnatal depression, we show you how to spot the signs and explain about the support and treatments available.
HOW CAN YOU SPOT THE SIGNS OF POSTNATAL DEPRESSION?
The signs of postnatal depression are similar to general depression and can develop several months after giving birth to your baby. The main three symptoms that are common to postnatal depression are feelings of unhappiness, poor appetite, loss of libido, insomnia and low self-esteem.
Other symptoms common to this condition are feelings of guilt, anxiety, tiredness and loss of interest in normal activities. You could also be suffering from impaired concentration or memory, over concern or not enough concern for the baby. If you are feeling any of these symptoms for longer than a month you should contact your health visitor or GP for advice.
HOW CAN YOU HELP YOURSELF?
If you are still feeling low and experiencing a poor appetite after the first month of giving birth to your baby, you should talk to your health visitor or GP.
All new mothers are visited by a health visitor after the birth of their baby and are expected to visit their GP after six weeks of giving birth. These appointments are designed to check that all is well with you and your baby. Your doctor or health visitor will check your baby’s weight and look for symptoms of jaundice and problems with breast-feeding.
This is also an ideal time for you to discuss any problems you may be experiencing such as feelings of low self-esteem or communicating with your baby. If you have a sensitive doctor or health visitor, they will probably pick up the early signs of postnatal depression. However, if they don’t, you shouldn’t feel guilty about telling them how you feel.
‘Treating postnatal depression earlier rather than later is better for you and your baby before it becomes embedded in the relationship between you and your child,’ says Angela Joyce, a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist at the Anna Freud Centre, a charity that provides emotional support to children and parents.
HOW FAMILY AND FRIENDS CAN HELP TREAT POSTNATAL DEPRESSION
If you think a member of your family or a friend is suffering from postnatal depression, there are certain ways you can help. ‘One of the best ways of helping a mother with PND is to be supportive in a non-judgemental, non-critical way,’ says Angela. ‘You should be careful not to make a new mum feel guilty of the way she is behaving towards her child,’ she says.
One of the best ways of doing this is to give a new mother a break without taking the child away. ‘Looking after the baby while mum goes to the hairdressers or for a swim can give valuable space to a new mother,’ says Angela.
If you notice a new mother is looking unhappy or displaying negative feelings and won’t admit it, you should gently ask her if she wants to talk about her emotions to you, another member of the family or a health visitor.
The worst thing to do is criticise a person suffering from postnatal depression. ‘A mother will have overwhelming feelings of guilt and should not be made to feel worse than they already do,’ she says.
It there are feelings of criticism from a partner or another family member, it may be helpful to visit a councillor to address the problems, rather than let these feelings fester.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO GET TREATED FOR POSTNATAL DEPRESSION?
Research shows that postnatal depression can have a major impact on the relationship between you and your baby. Studies by Professor Lynn Murray of Cambridge University shows that babies are finely attuned to their mother’s emotions and can react accordingly.
If a mother is suffering from the condition, her baby may start to refuse the breast, turn away from its mother or refuse to look at their mother. Babies who have depressed mothers may be more difficult to soothe or feed.
This, in turn, can lead to depression in the baby, causing them to become withdrawn and lifeless. Studies show that boys can be particularly affected by postnatal depression and this can lead to depression in early childhood years and even into adolescence.
HOW CAN POSTNATAL DEPRESSION BE TREATED?
Any mother who thinks she may be suffering from postnatal depression should seek medical help as soon as possible as this condition can be cured within several months. Research shows that the best form of treatment is a combination of anti-depressant drugs, which can be taken during breast-feeding, together with counselling.
Some health visitors offer counselling on a weekly basis, otherwise your GP can arrange for you to see a counsellor practising cognitive therapy. This treatment aims to challenge a sufferer’s negative thought patterns and to recognise when you are about to become anxious and then learn how to control your feelings of anxiety.
This form of therapy will speed up recovery and teach new mothers coping skills which can help after she has recovered from the condition.
Experts also recommend a healthy diet including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and protein, to help keep the immune system healthy.
Strict diets or going for long periods without food are not advised because this can send blood sugar levels haywire and make mood swings worse. Your midwife, health visitor or GP should be able to explain how you can improve your diet.