One of the more common questions I get asked from pregnant women is ‘how can I prevent postnatal depression’? If you type ‘postnatal’ into google, some of the suggested phrases are ‘postnatal depression’, ‘postnatal anxiety’ and ‘postnatal depletion’. It’s not very positive is it? I’ve heard some people refer to their symptoms as ‘having postnatal’, suggesting that the word postnatal has become synonymous with postnatal depression. When postnatal simply refers to the time after the baby arrives. This can be a very happy time with the right support!
The immediate time after birth is a huge time of transition. The new mother will most likely be experiencing sleep deprivation, huge hormonal adjustments and an identity transformation.
Many people have heard of ‘the baby blues’ as it can effect up to 80% of new mothers. Usual onset is around days 3-5 after the birth and can include symptoms of teariness, irritability, nervousness and feeling extra emotional. With help and support from a partner, family or friends it normally resolves quite quickly. If these symptoms continue past two weeks after birth, it is considered a sign of something more serious.
Postpartum depression can have similar symptoms to the baby blues, however, they persist for longer than two weeks after birth and can occur any time in the first year postpartum. Symptoms often include; sadness, feeling empty or hopeless, feeling exhausted, loss of interest in self care, anxiety, overwhelm and loss of pleasure in life. Unfortunately, postpartum depression effects around 1 in 7 women.
How does someone know if they have postnatal depression?
The most widely used tool to screen for depression is the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale. This is something that can be done online or with a health care provider. If you suspect someone you know may be experiencing postnatal depression, please encourage them to seek help from a trained health care professional.
These are useful websites:
If you know someone who has just had a baby, it’s a good idea to keep checking in regularly. You can ask simple questions like; how have you been feeling over the last two weeks? Do you have good support? Have you had any issues? How can I be helpful?
Here are some suggestions to help with improving mental wellbeing:
- Try to eat a healthy diet including fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Try to do some exercise. Even just a gentle walk in fresh air and sunshine can help so much.
- Try to find ways to get more sleep. You can try napping when the baby sleeps if possible or enlist help from others so you can have a rest.
- Ask for help with housework, cleaning and meal preparation. This is extra important during the first six weeks postpartum so you can have proper time for healing.
- Try to be social. Reach out to other mothers or your friends and family.
- Make some time to do things you like, for example; a walk in nature, have a bath, read a book.
- Spend time with your partner (if you have one) to nurture your relationship.
- Meditate and do some deep breathing.
- Discuss your feelings and try to come up with solutions.
- See a naturopath and see if you may need to supplement with iron, B-group vitamins, calcium, magnesium or fish oils.
- Switch off from social media and have designated ‘screen free time’
- Take things one step at a time.
Many people get back to me saying they wish they were more prepared for postpartum. I really believe having support is so essential. It’s important to ask for help and learn to say yes when people offer. Try to get good habits in place like healthy eating and enjoying oxytocin boosting activities that help you feel more peace and joy.