Parents

 Postnatal depression* – more than the ‘baby blues’

I was not really aware that I had it [postnatal depression]. It was devastating to my whole family. I had gone through numerous attempts to have a baby and when I did finally have this perfect, beautiful, healthy baby and it all but destroyed me. I couldn’t hold the baby, I couldn’t do anything for the baby, I couldn’t look at the baby. Every time I got near her, even the smell of the diapers of the baby. I would… My knees would get weak. I would… I just cried all day long and I thought I’d made the worst mistake of my life.”Brooke Shields, Actor
It is not surprising that some people feel very low and distressed during pregnancy, after the baby is born and sometimes for months and years afterwards.  This time in your life is like a perfect storm of stress factors, all happening at once. Stressors can include:

  • Hormonal changes and body changes.
  • Physical health difficulties.
  • Breastfeeding problems. Many of us view breastfeeding as a vital function of motherhood. It can then be emotionally devastating and lead to feelings of failure if your attempt to breastfeed is not working.
  • Traumatic birth experiences where your life or the life of your baby was threatened.
  • Economic stressors – often involves taking a drop in pay, at a time when you have more expenses.
  • Change of roles and loss of identity – from a sense of being in charge at work and knowing your place in the world, to feeling out of your depth as a parent.
  • Lack of sleep. This seems like a small thing, but has a massive impact.
  • Reflections on your own childhood – becoming a parent brings back memories of your own childhood and family of origin, which sometimes isn’t a good thing
  • Increased contact with family members. Having a newborn requires you to deal with (and sometimes rely on) family members and in-laws that you previously didn’t have as much to do with (and perhaps don’t get along with).
  • Your own high expectations of yourself – perhaps you are always falling short of the high expectations you set for yourself as a parent.
  • Challenges to your relationship. If parenting with a partner, parenting can bring you closer together but can also highlight your differences.
  • Constant demands. Having a newborn, an infant or a toddler is a constant job with no time off. It is easy to feel tired, burned out and resentful.
  • Looking after a baby who is having problems. If your baby is colicky, unwell or difficult to settle this can be both physically and emotionally demanding.
  • The way you ‘should’ feel. Society tells you that this is a happy time when you should be feeling at your most fulfilled as a woman. It is difficult if this is not the case.
  • A multitude of conflicting messages from friends, family, health professionals, other mums about what you ‘should’ be doing.

It is very common for people to experience the ‘baby blues’. Being a new parent is hard. But for some of us, these low feelings don’t lift after a few weeks. When postnatal depression takes hold it can be associated with feelings of despair, guilt and inadequacy, irritability and rage, along with fatigue, sleep and appetite disturbance, as well as an inability to get enjoyment out of life. It can also interfere with your ability to bond with and respond to your baby. At its worst, it can lead to thoughts of suicide and self harm. And what is it like for Dads? Although they haven’t physically given birth, they are also subject to many of the same stressors listed above – it is really important to make sure that they are also given the support they need. (*Note – Postnatal depression is also sometimes referred to as postpartum or perinatal depression.)

Things you can do

  • If you’re struggling, call someone. Call a friend or family member. Or you can call a parent support line such as -Tresillian Parents’ Helpline: 1300 272 736; The National Perinatal Depression Helpline 1300 726 306
  • If you are experiencing postnatal depression, it is really important to get help, for the sake of yourself and your baby. A good place to start can be talking with your GP or your early childhood health nurse.
  • There are psychological treatments for depression that can be really helpful. Make an appointment, and come and talk to us. We listen.

Feeling unsafe right now?

The most distressing and dangerous parts of depression are thoughts of self harm and suicide. If this is how you feel, you need to first keep yourself safe.

More on keeping safe

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