AFTER THE BIRTH
You may have heard the term 'baby blues' used to describe a mild, short, period of depression which many women experience after childbirth. Do not confuse this with post-natal depression. The 'baby blues' usually arrive within the first week after the birth of your baby. You may feel very emotional and find that you keep bursting into tears but you cannot explain why you are upset. You also may not be able to concentrate or remember things. This is quite normal for most new mums and may be due to sudden changes in the levels of your hormones after giving birth.
As a new mum you may feel that you will be unable to cope when at home alone with your baby. This is especially the case with first time mums. Often the promise of practical help from family and friends can ease the situation, and as you learn how to cope at home your feelings of depression will lift.
In a few cases the 'blues' get worse and the symptoms become more distressing. This is post-natal depression. Slowly developing post-natal depression can take two forms. One type occurs when a patch of post-natal 'blues' which started soon after the baby's birth becomes worse and more distressing as time passes. The second type develops more slowly and is not noticeable until several weeks after the birth of the baby.
Many mothers begin to feel depressed, increasingly despondent and hopeless soon after the baby is born. You may feel terribly miserable and sad for no particular reason and may find that you spend a large part of each day in tears. Sometimes you may feel rejected by your partner, family, friends, or even by the new baby; these feelings usually have no foundation.
You may feel permanently tired and unable to cope with household chores. You may give up bathing, dressing properly or making-up.
There are many different reasons why people develop post-natal depression. It is often due to a dramatic change in your lifestyle eg. change in routine or role. It could be linked to a difficult birth or other trauma experienced around childbirth or pregnancy. Hormonal changes may also play a part. Lack of sleep almost certainly plays a crucial role.
ANXIETY (EXTREME WORRYING)
A depressed mother may feel extremely anxious about a variety of subjects and situations. You may be worried about your health, possibly having felt unwell since the birth of the baby. You may experience severe pain for which the doctor can find no satisfactory explanation. This pain is often in the head or neck. Other mothers suffer backache, and chest pains which they fear are due to heart trouble. You may have a number of minor medical complaints which can cause undue distress.
Pain and a general feeling of illness or constant tiredness are very common symptoms of depression and can become worse if the depression remains untreated.
Anxiety may make you worry about the health and well-being of other members of your family, especially the baby.
You may feel too tense and anxious to go out of your home. You may not be able to bear to meet up with even your closest friends, and may refuse to answer the door, telephone or letters.
You may experience confusion over everyday situations and may experience feelings of panic. These feelings are unpredictable and often very distressing. You may feel unable to 'calm down' and may find it hard to breathe.
Feeling tense is often associated with depression. However much you are encouraged to relax you might find it difficult to do so. You may feel as if you are about to explode when the tension is at its worst.
OBSESSIONAL AND INAPPROPRIATE THOUGHTS
A mother suffering from depression commonly has some obsessional thoughts. These may be about a person, a situation or about a certain activity. You may become very frightened and believe that you may harm a member of your family, especially the baby. These fears are very common symptoms of depression and can sometimes be accompanied by feelings of guilt.
You might find that you cannot concentrate on books, television programmes or even conversation. You may find that your memory is very poor and you may often feel very disorganised. You may find that you sit for long periods of time doing nothing, but thinking about how awful you feel.
Often you will have some form of sleeping difficulty. You may be awake until the early hours of the morning, or get no sleep at all. You may sleep very fitfully and wake frequently.
Some mothers can find insomnia one of the most distressing aspects of the illness. The feeding needs of a young baby do not help a mother who is having sleeping difficulties.
A common effect of depression is a complete loss of interest in sex. This can last for some time. It can be helpful if partners realise that this is a symptom of the illness and that sexual desire will return as soon as the depression lifts. It should be stressed that a return of sexual desire is often the last sign that a depression has lifted and great patience is necessary if a relationship is to be kept intact whilst a mother recovers from post-natal depression.
This form of depression occurs during pregnancy and many of the symptoms are the same as for post-natal depression