Women go through huge physical and emotional changes during and after childbirth, which can trigger complex and intense emotions. These emotions may result in postnatal depression, which can begin any time in the first year after giving birth. Postnatal depression is not to be confused with “baby blues” and is unlikely to resolve on its own without professional intervention.
What are the symptoms of postnatal depression?
It’s common for women to feel overwhelmed, tearful or anxious in the first week after giving birth. Also known as “baby blues”, these symptoms should not last more than two weeks postpartum.
If your symptoms last longer and are more intense, you may have postnatal depression. Signs to look out for include:
- A persistent feeling of sadness
- Loss of interest in the outside world
- Lack of energy and feeling fatigued all the time
- Difficulty bonding with baby
- Trouble sleeping at night and keeping awake during the day
- Thoughts of hurting your baby
- Extreme irritability and anger
- Inability to concentrate or make decisions
- Severe and frequent panic attacks
- Constant thoughts of death or suicide
Left untreated, postnatal depression can result in a chronic depressive disorder and increase your risk of future major depressive episodes. If you are experiencing any of the above, speak to your doctor immediately.
What causes postnatal depression?
Anyone can get postnatal depression, but certain risk factors increase the likelihood of developing the disorder. These include:
- A history of depression or other mental health issues
- Postnatal depression after a previous pregnancy
- An unsupportive partner and/or weak support system
- A premature or unwell baby who requires a lot of attention
- Breastfeeding difficulties
- Financial problems
- The pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted
- Going through stressful life events, such as bereavement
What are the treatment options?
If you suspect that you have postnatal depression, it is essential to seek professional help as soon as possible. Speaking to a professional allows you to obtain a proper diagnosis and appropriate, timely treatment.
Your GP may recommend a self-help course or refer you for psychological therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Depending on the severity of your condition, you may be prescribed antidepressants to help you cope with postnatal depression. Your doctor may also check for any underlying health conditions that may be aggravating any feelings of depression, such as anaemia or thyroid problems.
Apart from speaking to your doctor, there are a few things you can do to alleviate your symptoms and help you cope:
- Talk to someone you trust, such as your partner, friends or family. Let them understand what you’re going through and how they can support you.
- Recognise that you can’t do everything by yourself, and that’s perfectly okay. Ask for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed, and accept help when it’s offered.
- Make time for yourself to do things that you enjoy and help you relax, such as going out for a nice meal, doing yoga, reading a book or having a bubble bath.
- Get as much rest as you can. Sleep whenever you have the chance and get your partner to help with caring for the baby at night.
- Exercise regularly.
- Have regular, balanced meals.
How to prevent postnatal depression
If you are pregnant and have a history of depression or mental health issues, speak to your doctor. Your doctor will monitor you for signs of depression during and after pregnancy and recommend appropriate treatment, such as counselling, therapy and antidepressants. Signing up for antenatal classes and forming support networks with other pregnant women or new parents can also help you cope better as a new mother.
Know that postnatal depression is a common complication of giving birth and not a character flaw or weakness – there’s nothing to be ashamed about. If you suspect that you have postnatal depression, speak to a doctor immediately. Our compassionate doctors in Singapore at Osler Health will help you overcome any mental health difficulties that you may be facing.