Did you know that it’s estimated that between 50-80 per cent of women experience emotional mood swings in the days after giving birth? But what happens when those mood swings don’t lift?
SINGING THE BLUES….
Despite the fact that post-natal depression (PND) is not uncommon, it still remains very much misunderstood.
Most women will experience ‘the blues’, which often kick in after about four days. Considering the physical upheaval of actually giving birth, it’s perhaps hardly surprising that ‘the blues’ kick in when progesterone and oestrogen levels – which are very high during pregnancy – suddenly drop, and levels of a steroid hormone called prolactin begin to increase.
These ‘blues’ are an unpleasant experience and mainly involve symptoms such as:
- Worrying over every little thing
- Crying at the drop of a hat
- Questioning your maternal ability
The good thing about ‘the blues’ is that they last for a relatively short time – usually one or two days – and require no medical treatment other than rest and support.
For other women, however, ‘the blues’ not only persist, but gradually worsen.
In most women PND tends to manifest itself in the first six weeks after birth. It can, however, appear up to six months – or even a year – later. In general, the disorder will present with low mood and other symptoms, such as a sense of loneliness, sleeplessness, severe lethargy, bouts of crying and excessive despondency. Some women will experience deep anger.
One of the main things to remember about PND is that it can happen to anyone. It doesn’t mean that you are inadequate as a mother. Nor does it mean that you are mentally ill. Nor is it your fault! Any woman can get PND and everyone can make a full recovery from it.
Causes of PND
No one is 100 per cent sue as to the cause of PND, but the most popular theories are:
Hormones: experts are still divided as to whether falling oestrogen or progesterone levels are the root cause. Levels of these hormones certainly do fall and it’s possible that some women are unusually sensitive to this drop.
Exhaustion: any new mum will vouch for the level of exhaustion that it’s possible to experience. Chronic tiredness will make PND symptoms worse, but, while exhaustion may be a FACTOR of PND, it’s certainly not the root cause.
Lifestyle: this is a very ‘grey’ area in terms of PND. You may be a first-time mum, who’s finding that being a mum isn’t everything you expected it to be. Or you could be an older mum, who’s finding it difficult to suddenly have to deal with a new little life and are trying to make everything ‘perfect’. Maybe you’ve returned to work and are having problems balancing home and work.
All of these scenarios can create negative feelings which, when combined with hormonal changes and tiredness can leave you feeling ‘down’ and can potentially lead to PND.
The ‘blues’ or PND?
But how do you tell if you’re suffering from PND or just having a touch of the ‘blues’?
Well, you could begin by checking your symptoms against this list of common PND symptoms..
- Are you feeling anxious or low and crying for no apparent reason?
- Do you feel that you can’t cope?
- Are you having panic or anxiety attacks?
- Are you unable to concentrate on reading, watching TV or doing basic chores?
- Are you worrying all the time about your and your baby’s health?
- Are you having difficulty sleeping – often wakening in the early hours even if your baby doesn’t?
- Have you lost interest in sex?
- Have you lost your appetite?
- Are you feeling exhausted all of the time and finding it hard to get out of your PJs?
- Do you feel hopeless about the future?
Where to seek help
If you can identify with some or many of the questions above, then it’s vitally important that you speak to your health visitor or midwife. Discuss how you feel with them and let them make the decision as to whether or not you’re suffering from PND. They cannot prescribe your medication, but they can refer you to your GP, who can advise on both medication or perhaps counselling.
Many women find it difficult to ask for help, but remember – PND is an illness, not a weakness.