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Postnatal Depression

After giving birth, a large number of women experience the ‘baby blues’, a brief (up to a week) period of feeling tearful and emotional. This is very common and is even regarded as being a normal reaction to changing hormone levels, tiredness and a period of being in hospital. However, if these feelings become more powerful and persist, it could be the onset of postnatal depression, although it is important to realise that this can also come on suddenly, usually within a year of a baby’s birth.

Some key symptoms of postnatal depression are a persistent feeling of sadness, loss of interest in yourself or things that you previously enjoyed, loss of interest or even hostility towards your baby or partner, fatigue, disturbed sleep, difficulties with concentration and decision-making, low self-confidence, poor appetite, feelings of anxiety and agitation and even panic attacks, feelings of guilt and self-harm or even of harming the baby. Thoughts of self-harm or harming your baby can be very frightening, but this is common and does not mean that it will actually happen. Although one sometimes hears stories about this in the press, the extremely severe form of postnatal depression suffered by the women in those cases, known as puerperal psychosis, is extremely rare.

Very commonly, a woman will not realise that she is suffering from postnatal depression. She may be worried that if she raises her worries about how she is feeling with a health professional, they will be dismissed and she will be told that the feelings of responsibility and lack of sleep are part and parcel of having a new-born baby and changes to hormones and body shape following pregnancy mean that feelings of anxiety and fatigue, and a loss of self-confidence are normal, and she is over-reacting. However, there is no clear dividing line between what is normal and what could be classed as postnatal depression. Not everyone will have the same symptoms and the severity of each symptom can vary from person to person. If you are a new mother and are worried that what you are feeling is more than the baby blues, or you are a friend or family member or a professional working with a new mother and you think there is a possibility that she is suffering from postnatal depression, it is important to seek help. Some new mothers might be worried that if they admit to having negative feelings, they will be classed as a bad mother but this fear is misplaced; post-natal depression is very common (around 1 in 10 new mothers will experience it in some form) and has no bearing at all on the question of whether someone is fit to be a parent.

CPCP offers a new mother a quiet, safe and confidential space to talk and come to terms with her experience of giving birth and being a new mother. Working with a therapist can allow a new mother to get to the bottom of some of the underlying causes of her depression; for example, perhaps she has a subconscious perception of motherhood that, again on an unconscious level, she is worried that she is not fulfilling. Addressing these sorts of issues can lead to healthier parent-infant bonding and a happier, more secure relationship. Early intervention and detection for a parent who is experiencing post natal depression is key to the wellbeing of the parent infant relationship. Enabling and nurturing the emotional capacity of the parent is in the best interests of the baby; neuroscience is teaching us the importance of the first two years of an infant’s life and that their experience of being held emotionally by a parent sets up patterns for the rest of their lives.

More information and support on postnatal depression can be found through the PANDAS Foundation (Pre and Post Natal Depression Advice and Support), the Association for Post Natal Illness, PNI ORG UK and on mumsnet.

Men too suffer from post-natal depression; for them too, the physical exhaustion and changing roles and responsibilities that come with a new child can be overwhelming and difficult to talk about. A recent Australian study found that the issue may affect as many as one in ten new fathers. If you are a new father and you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, or other symptoms that you are worried are connected with the birth of your child, the therapists at CPCP are able to help. Further information and a forum about post natal depression in men can also be found on www.dad.info.

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