Post-natal mental health

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So, your bundle of joy has finally arrived, you’ve come home from hospital and now you can all live happily ever after…right? Well, sadly it’s not always that simple. The birth of a baby is classed as one of life’s big stressful events ( it’s up there with divorce, death, house purchase and getting married). Any event that causes major changes to our lives, both good and bad has the potential to cause us stress. Let’s face it, the birth of a child is a fairly major upheaval for most of us. I can remember feeling shell-shocked for quite a while after the birth of my first child. She was much wanted and it had taken us a while to conceive her but in the immediate days and weeks after her birth I found myself wondering what on earth I had been thinking of and wondering how I was going to figure out how to be a mum. I think I kept expecting the grown-ups to arrive and take over! What I did find was that it was very hard to admit to anyone (even myself) that I was struggling. I mean, this was what I’d wanted so what was wrong with me? With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I quite probably had mild Post-Natal Depression(PND). I was one of the lucky ones because in time I started to feel better and began to cope and even to enjoy motherhood. For many women, though, PND can be a serious debilitating condition and left untreated it can cause serious mental health difficulties. It’s estimated that in Ireland 1 in 7 new mothers will suffer with PND and that 1 in 500 will suffer from Post-Natal Psychosis (PNP).

The symptoms of PND usually include one or more of the following:

  • low mood for long periods of time (a week or more)
  • feeling irritable for a lot of the time
  • tearfulness
  • panic attacks or feeling trapped in your life
  • difficulty concentrating
  • lack of motivation
  • lack of interest in yourself and your new baby
  • feeling lonely
  • feeling guilty, rejected or inadequate
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • feeling unable to cope
  • difficulty sleeping and feeling constantly tired
  • physical signs of tension, such as headaches, stomach pains or blurred vision
  • lack of appetite
  • reduced sex drive

( Source HSE website)

Individually these symptoms are fairly common after the birth of a baby but they become significant when several are present at the one time and when the symptoms don’t improve over time.

The symptoms of Post-Natal Psychosis include those of PND plus

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Irrational or suicidal thoughts.

PNP is a serious mental illness and anyone suffering from it needs to be medically assessed as a matter of urgency to ensure the best outcomes for themselves and their baby.

Causes of PND

  • Depression during pregnancy or previous mental health problems
  • Worry and anxiety about the baby
  • Difficult birth
  • Lack of practical support (living away from family or friends)
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Money problems
  • Physical health problems post-natally (eg incontinence)
  • Hormonal changes associated with pregnancy and childbirth

Any of these issues individually do not necessarily mean that a woman will suffer with PND but a combination of them can lead to a “perfect storm” where PND is more likely to develop.

Getting help:

The most important step to getting help is to admit you are struggling. This can also be the hardest thing to do. However there is absolutely no shame in admitting you need help. To use Cycle against suicide‘s fabulous tag line “It’s okay not to feel okay and it’s absolutely okay to ask for help”. After all, if you had any physical condition that needed medical help you most probably wouldn’t hesitate to get it.  Your mental health deserves as much care as your physical health and there is no shame is accessing whatever help you might need. If you need help, speak to one of the following:

  • GP
  • Public Health Nurse
  • Support services such as Nurture

Mental health fitness post-natally

Motherhood is a marathon, not a sprint and it is important for the well-being of yourself and your family that you look after yourself both mentally and physically. It’s not selfish to make sure your needs are met…in fact it’s vital. Just as the air hostess will tell parents travelling with small children that in the event of an emergency, they must put on their own oxygen mask first, mothers must put their emotional oxygen mask on first. If you’re not well you won’t have the resources to look after your child/children.

Looking after yourself means paying attention to:

  • Diet…it’s tempting to grab the first thing to hand but you need good fuel to keep your engine running efficiently. Try to keep processed food to a  minimum. Cook in bulk and freeze ahead if you get the chance, then there will be a quick option available on days when you just don’t get a minute to cook something fresh.
  • Exercise… Just getting out in the fresh air for a walk with the buggy is good for you both. Mother and baby yoga classes are a fantastic way of incorporating exercise and meditation into your routine. They’re also a great way of meeting new friends who are at the same life stage as you.
  • Rest (where possible).
  • Having realistic expectations of yourself…there is no such thing as a perfect parent, good enough is good enough.
  • Asking for help or at least accepting help when it’s offered…one of the best gifts I received after my daughter was born was when my sister-in-law Geraldine, offered to take the baby into her room for the night and let me sleep (we were visiting them for Christmas). Almost 22 years later, I can still remember how it felt to get a full night’s sleep after 5 weeks of up every hour. I probably wouldn’t have asked her to do it but when she offered I didn’t have to be asked twice!

 

If you feel you need help there is help available. Nurture is an Irish charity offering counselling for any issues related to conception, pregnancy and birth. There are no waiting lists and the cost can be subsidised for those who might not otherwise be able to afford it. All the counsellors are fully qualified and accredited.

 

 

 

 

 

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