Written by Dr. Helen Andrews
Clinical Psychologist Dr. Helen Andrews sheds light on this common condition and the warning signs that it might be developing into postnatal depression.
The ‘baby blues’ is a phrase used to describe the period in the first few days or weeks after having a baby, where the new mum can feel emotionally all over the place. It is experienced, to varying degrees, by around three quarters of us and is therefore seen as quite normal. It is likely to be caused by the significant hormonal changes that occur following birth, combined with having to adjust to a new and demanding role whilst being sleep deprived!
There are not seen to be any long term consequences from having the ‘baby blues’ for a short time, and by looking after yourself, sleeping when you can and accepting the support offered by others, you are likely to come out of the other side relatively quickly.
For some mums, however, the blues worsen. If you, or someone you know, feels sad or anxious a lot of the time, struggles to get enjoyment from or feel close to their baby and feels hopeless about the situation improving, then they may be developing postnatal depression. Some women seem fine initially, but become depressed many months after the birth.
This is a more worrying situation. Not only is it an absolutely horrible thing for the mum (and those around her) to experience at the time, there are proven long term consequences for the baby’s development in a range of areas. A significant number of families that come to my clinic, with children of all ages, have a history of postnatal depression. This is clearly backed up by the research and is linked to the developing attachment relationship and intersubjective experiences of the baby.
Luckily, there are things that you can do, and the earlier you seek help, the better. There are three main groups of people that are likely to be important in helping someone overcome postnatal depression: professionals; family and close friends; and the wider social network.
Health visitors and GPs are very experienced at talking with parents who are struggling in this way. They can offer a listening ear, practical advice, and possibly medication or referral onto specialist services. It is very important to seek medical help if you are worried somebody is severely unwell.
Partners, grandparents, other family and close friends are the best people to be there for a mum feeling low. Offers of practical help around the house, a short break from the baby, going out for a walk together, cups of tea and a chat can all help with feelings of isolation and being overwhelmed.
Finally, meeting up with your ante-natal group at each other’s houses, joining an exercise group with other mums, taking time out for some self-care (a massage, manicure, aromatherapy, whatever does it for you!) are again invaluable to combat that sense that you are on your own and stuck at home. All of these things are much harder when you are feeling very low and drained of energy. Be kind to yourself but push yourself a little bit to get out there.
With the right support, the vast majority of mums overcome their depression and find the joy that having a baby can bring.
About the Author
Dr Helen Andrews is a Clinical Psychologist with over 15 years of experience working with children and young people.
Through her business, Family Matters in Warwickshire, she helps parents when they can see that their child is struggling with their emotions, behaviour or development.
Contact Helen on 01564 795337 or visit www.familymattersinwarwickshire.co.uk