Up to 80 percent of women experience the ‘baby blues’ in the early days after giving birth. A new mum experiencing the baby blues often feels teary and overwhelmed, yet this passes within a few days. However, if symptoms of depression persist for more than 2 weeks and/or they are affecting your day to day life, then it’s time to get help as you may be experiencing Postnatal Depression.
What is postnatal depression?
When anxiety or depression begins sometime in the year after giving birth it is referred to as postnatal depression or postnatal anxiety. More than 1 in 7 new mums and almost 1 in 10 new dads experience postnatal depression. Postnatal anxiety is just as common, and many parents experience both at the same time. This is a very frightening and isolating experience as parents are trying to deal with their symptoms while caring for a new baby and possibly other children at the same time.
Some symptoms of postnatal depression and postnatal anxiety include:
- panic attacks
- persistent, generalised worry, often focussed on fears for the health, wellbeing or safety of the baby
- development of obsessive compulsive thoughts and/or behaviours
- abrupt mood swings
- withdrawing from family and/or friends
- feeling angry
- little or no interest in things that normally bring you joy
- having thoughts of harming your baby.
Symptoms can be experienced as mild, moderate or severe and can appear suddenly after birth or gradually in the weeks or even months of the first year (perinatal period).
1 in 20 men experiences depression during their partner’s pregnancy, and 1 in 10 experience postnatal depression and/or postnatal anxiety. Dads often find it difficult to talk about their feelings because they feel they need to be there to hold the family together. For dads who are struggling, reaching out to get help can take some courage, but it is the best thing to do for his family.
Adjusting to change
Changes that come with becoming new parents are exciting but can be challenging and scary at the same time. Some types of changes experienced include:
- relationships with partners, family, friends and colleagues can become stronger, weaker, can evolve into something new or even fall away completely
- a career can often be stalled
- income and finances can be affected as some families move to one income while one parent stays home with the baby
- a sense of self and identity can be challenged – this includes physical changes through pregnancy and beyond, as well as changes to who we identify as and how we view ourselves
- grief and loss can be experienced as you leave one life behind and move into another.
Losses and gains
Often mums and dads feel shocked, guilty and ashamed of their feelings of grief and loss during this time of change. It is very common to feel a sense of loss of identity, leisure, or the dynamics of partner relationships. It can take time to adjust to these changes before being able to appreciate new things that have been gained. This feeling is natural and doesn’t necessarily lead to anxiety and depression. There are ways to help you adjust to these changes, such as:
- develop a new daily rhythm or routine
- embrace a new sense of this new role
- explore a new way of relating to your partner
- build confidence as a parent
- explore and understand the impact of the pregnancy and baby on your core values, beliefs and assumptions about yourself, your family and the world.
Important take-home messages from mums and dads in the community…
“Embrace your new role, develop a supportive parent network and never feel alone or afraid to ask questions or seek help – chances are someone else is feeling the same way”
“Have confidence in yourself – you are your baby’s best mama, for you are their only mama”
“Join a mother’s club, attend all the clinic and doctors’ appointments available to yourself and your baby and find the benefit to filling out your baby book. Live and be in the moment – all baby moments – celebrate the little things and don’t feel bad about spending some days on the couch with your baby”
“Having mixed emotions and experiencing complex changes is normal. However, it can also be confusing and scary. As expecting parents, being prepared for these changes and being open to talking about feelings and facing them head-on can help you navigate your transition to parenthood”
Speak with your GP about adjusting to parenthood, or if you are experiencing symptoms of postnatal depression or anxiety. The Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) website also provides useful resources.