You’ve just had a baby. Everyone around you tells you that you ‘should be happy’– but you’re not.
If this sounds like you, it could be that you’ve got the ‘baby blues’ – a mild form of post-natal depression, which affects nearly 80% of new mothers. You may feel tired and tearful, anxious and mildly depressed, often for reasons you can’t quite identify.
Symptoms of mild depression after birth are quite normal. They’re certainly not pleasant but they’re unlikely to be harmful to you, your baby or your close relationships. So it’s important to make the distinction between the ‘baby blues’– which can emerge around four days after the birth and persist for several weeks – and the persistent, deeper unhappiness, which goes on for much longer.
Moderate depression, which affects around 15% of women, can be difficult to distinguish from baby blues, especially in the early days. It can be more difficult to shift and have a deeper affect on your life. While it can respond well to self-treatment, especially in a supportive home environment, help from your doctor, community nurse or a counsellor is strongly recommended. Severe depression after birth is rare (occurring in only 1-2% of women) but may put both mothers and their babies at risk – it requires professional help.
What’s causing you to feel depressed?
Over the years, scientists have attempted to discover the cause of post-natal depression but have been unable to make absolute connections between it and things like hormone levels, socio-economic status, age or the difficulty of the birth.
It may be that depression has a real and valid role to play in the early days of motherhood. Depression, as experienced by so many women after birth, can for instance be part of a legitimate emotional process.
In 1996, psychologists from the University of the West of England, Bristol, discovered that post-natal depression may sometimes be a form of grieving for a lost lifestyle. During interviews with new mothers suffering depression, the researchers found that all the women missed the freedom of a child-free existence and, in some cases, missed their old body image.
Most of these women felt unable to share the reasons for their depression with family or other women, because they felt ashamed. This is not uncommon. In one study, published in the Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology in 1994, which looked at what women say and do for themselves about depression, nearly 60% of women who felt depressed did not seek medical attention.
When asked how they helped themselves, and what advice they would give to help others, half of the mothers said that finding someone to talk to about your feelings was the most important thing.
In truth many women can, and do, deal with the baby blues and even moderate depression quite effectively. If you are feeling down after birth, consider some of the following suggestions to help you cope:
Eat well. Keeping your blood sugar levels up will stave off the hypoglycaemia which can make symptoms worse. And while you may be anxious to get you figure back as soon as possible, a recent study in Nutrition Review (April 2000), confirms that strict low fat diets are linked to feelings of depression and even suicide. This may be especially relevant if you are breastfeeding, and using up more calories than normal. High caffeine and sugar intakes are also associated with higher rates of depression.