Written by Sara Khan
As a GP with two small children and many friends who have become new mothers in recent years, my awareness of postnatal depression and other mental health problems has increased. There is an expectation that having a baby will be an extremely happy time in one’s life, which of course it is; but for some, it can be really affected by negative symptoms that can impact on bonding with the baby.
It is thought that one in seven new mums develop postnatal depression and women from any socioeconomic, cultural or educational background can be affected.
It’s important to acknowledge that having a baby is a stressful time especially in view of the inevitable sleep deprivation, pressure of new responsibilities and lack of time for yourself.
It is fairly common for mums to experience ‘baby blues’, and this is partly related to the hormonal changes after giving birth along with the poor sleep and stress. Mood swings, crying, irritability, problems sleeping and anxiousness are all common.
However, with postnatal depression, the symptoms are more severe and longer lasting. They can also include suicidal thoughts, guilt, feelings of worthlessness and thoughts of harming your baby or harm coming to your baby. If you experience any of these it is vital to seek urgent help.
Tips on how to manage:
- See your GP or speak to your health visitor about how you are feeling. If you don’t feel the first health professional you see is helpful- see another. If you are suffering from postnatal depression, hopefully, you will find a sympathetic ear who will recommend a range of treatments suitable for you. This could involve talking therapies or medication.
Whether you are breastfeeding or not, there are treatments available that can help you. With the right help, you will get better.
2. Talk to friends or family. Don’t try and suffer on your own. All women need support in the postpartum period, and even more so if your mental health is affected
3. Eat well. This can be really hard with a newborn! The advice I give my patients is you must be kind to yourself. See if friends/family can help, if you don’t have this sort of support it is possible to get healthy ready-made meals these days and we shouldn’t feel a stigma about eating them. You will feel better by nourishing your body with nutritious foods- now isn’t the time for diets!
3. Rest and exercise. Sleep deprivation makes our mood worse. Rest is key, albeit can be very hard to do with a newborn. I used to cherish naps with my babies in the fourth trimester. Walking, gentle swimming and specific postnatal classes (with someone with specialist training) can be of benefit. However, there is too much pressure to “bounce back” in terms of our figures and it’s important to take care, and not to do too much, too soon. You have to be careful in terms of your pelvic floor, especially if you had an injury from childbirth or had a C-section.
4. Socialise, meet new mums and use social media wisely. It can be very isolating to have a new baby. Your friends may not have children and your work colleagues may be busy. Children’s centres and local mum/baby groups are good places where you can meet others. If you are feeling isolated, it does help to find “your tribe”- other mums who feel similarly to you. Social media groups e.g. on Facebook are fantastic for advice, support and even making new friends. There are also some great websites and bloggers out there too who are helping to dispel myths about motherhood and speaking the truth about how things are. Ignore those perfect images you see on Instagram- it’s all an illusion!
Dr Sara Khan is a GP in Hertfordshire and health services commissioner. She is passionate about developing the best services for patients through clinical leadership. She is a mother to a 3-year-old boy and 9-month-old girl, and an advocate for breastfeeding and babywearing.
Image Sources: Sara Khan, Pexels & Unsplash