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Clearing The Dark Cloud Of Postnatal Depression
Prevalent and overlooked, we shine the spotlight on this pressing issue and the silent battles waged by brave mothers.
Having a child is often said to be one of the happiest chapters in a woman’s life. However, to
some, the maternal bond may not come as naturally due to the influence of Postnatal Depression(PND), which is a mood disorder that affects mothers after childbirth.
Living together with her parents, Mrs Daniel* reckoned she could well manage her baby with
their presence and experience. In order to fulfil her new role as a mother, she took on every taskthat was baby-related. Daily chores like changing nappies, sterilising milk bottles and makingmilk became a normal routine which she enjoyed.
However, things took a change after a month. “From a loving and caring mother, I no longerwanted to have my baby,” she said.“The new role was just too much for me and besides, it hindered myfreedom.” Mrs Daniel started losing appetite and sleep, and even turned a deaf ear when herbaby cried. The lovey-dovey motherly feeling just slipped away. That was when she knew thatshe was suffering from PND.
Causes For Alarm
Mrs Daniel is but one of the many women dealing with PND, which affects about 10 to 15% of postnatal women. The causes are often multifactorial, with oneof the main factorsbeingthe change in postpartum hormone levels. The dramatic drop in hormones like estrogen and progesterone immediately after childbirth can bring about feelings of sluggishness and depression.
Other non-physical factors can also take you down the depression slide, including the changein lifestyle from being a couple to a parent, complications during childbirth, lack of socialsupport, marital discord, lack of sleep, and many others.
PND is frequently confused with baby blues or postnatal blues. However, there are many
differences between the two. Baby blues occur in 50 to 70% of mothers. It can make a motherfeel anxious, unable to sleep or have poor sleep, and teary for very little reason. The symptomsusually lasts for up to 10-14 days.
If the condition persists past 14 days, then it could possibly bePND, which unlike baby blues, is usually more severe and cannot be remedied with a short-term fix. If left untreated, PND can even disrupt your daily routine and your ability to take care of your baby.
Spot the Signs
So how do mothers ascertain if what they are feeling is PND? The most obvious sign is the suffocating feeling of being overwhelmed. Mothers might also feel low in moodthroughout the day, have very low energy levels, display anxiety symptoms, and find it hard toenjoy anything. They could also develop a sense of guilt for not coping very well, which results inself-blaming. In some cases, they might display problems with memory and concentration.
Take the example of Nathan and Suzie*, who are happily married with two healthy children. Their blissful chapterdid not start out smoothly as Suzie had PND after the birth of their first child. “There was oncewhen she woke up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet and couldn’t find herway back into the room,” said Nathan as he recalled one incident during Suzie’s PND episode.
Concerned, Nathan left their room to look for her and found her pacing around in circles in theliving room. “She was very anxious about not being able to look after her baby, and she
couldn’t find her way back into the room,” he said. “Looking back, my wife knew she wasn’t hernormal self. However, she didn’t realise she was going through depression; she onlyknewshe had all these fear and anxiety gripping her.”
Both Mrs Daniel and Suzie managed to seek treatment at hospitals, and have since recoveredfrom the condition.
The Postnatal Struggle
Regardless of whether a woman has PND or not, all mothers face similar challenges during thepostnatal period. Even celebrity moms like Chrissy Teigen are stepping forward to speak publicly about their experiences with postnatal depression. The model and TV presenter confessed that she “couldn’t control it”, and that merely being open about the subject helps. “I’m speaking up now because I want people to know it can happen to anybody and I don’t want people who have it to feel embarrassed or to feel alone.”
Influencer mummies, Jayme Shing and Aarika Lee shared about the challengesthey faced after childbirth.One of the common challenges that mothers face after childbirth is breastfeeding, which doesnot come instinctively and is a learnt behaviour.According to mummy blogger Jayme, she struggled during the first few months afterchildbirth due to breastfeeding issues. “I wanted to totally breastfeed my baby but I didn’t havethat kind of supply to match up yet. Nowadays, everyone is so open about breastfeeding. Theywant to breastfeed their babies exclusively and not give supplements or formula milk to theirbabies, and that adds on to the pressure.”
Good coaching and support are needed to breastfeed successfully. While there may be a lot ofpressure on women to breastfeed, mothers also need to manage their expectations that
breastfeeding is not easy. It is also very taxing on the mother who needs to breastfeed round theclock, approximately every two to three hours for the next few weeks to months.
Aarika Lee, the Head of Marketing and Copywriting of Elementary Co., a branding and
marketing consultancy, shared about the struggle to let go of whatever she had planned. “Babiesare very unpredictable. I realised that I couldn’t do everything on my own and learned that Icould lean on the people around me who loved and cared for my baby as much as I did. I hadthe tendency of trying to be ‘Superwoman’; rather than acceptinghelp, I always tried to doeverything by myself before I seek help.My mum raised me on her own after my dad passed away, so my impression of a mother wassomeone who could do everything. As a child, I guess I didn’t know what help she got along theway, so to me it was like magic. She could do everything and I aspired so much to be like her. Ithought I could do it all, but the truth is everyone needs to have a huge support system in orderto be a good, rested and patient mum who can provide.”
Grabbing Depression By The Horns
Partner support was perceived by PND patients to be among the top contributing factors in theirrecovery. Coping with mood disorders alone is extremely difficult and having an understandingpartner who provides emotional comfort and physical involvement would help the mothertremendously.
For spouses of women with PND, emotional support involves encouraging their wives and assuring themthat they aredoing well, whiletheir physical workload can be lightened by helping to look after the baby to allow them to goout and engage in some activities which they might have given up because of motherhood. Evenfor mothers who are not depressed, support will help to buffer against the likely stress in thepostnatal period.
Another thing that the husband and the extended family can help with is to give the mother asmuch rest as possible by helping her out with childcare duties such as feeding the child or
changing the diapers so that the mother can take a break.
Treat It Right
Different treatment methods are employed depending on the severity of the PND. For the
majority of women who have mild to moderate depression, basic education about protecting sleep,getting some time for exercise, and couple time are important. Mothers may be very sleepdeprived, and although they may tide through the first month fairly well looking after the babyfull time and getting woken up many times a night, it will eventually take a toll on them.
If awoman had depression in the past or has very poor social support, treatment via counselling orpsychotherapy will be recommended. For moderate to severe depression, educational lifestyleadvice works less well and thus antidepressants are prescribed to manage the condition.
Learning to let go
Aarika mentioned how young parents like to read up a lot because information can be found
everywhere. However, she strongly believes in the advice shared by her mother, “You can readall these resources, but the most important thing is to read your child. What works for othersmight not work for you, and what works on one child might not necessarily work on the nexteven if both of them are yours!”
“Learning to let go is very important. Learning to let go of the baby to the care of somebody
else that you trust, and learning to let go of yourself as well – in terms of the mistakes that wemade when caring for the baby because sometimes we get into a guilt trap. We should alsolearn to ask for help too. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t mean thatyou’re weak and you’re not a good mother,” said Jaymeas she shared about what she learntwhile parenting her two children.
Postpartum depression is an equal opportunity disease and can happen to anyone. Recognising the signs early on and getting the support you need is paramount. But the most crucial step to take is to emerge from the pervasive stigma the condition brings, speak up, and adopt a help-seeking approach. After all, grey skies can only make way for sunshine.
Joyful Beginnings is a health communications campaign by four final-year students from theWee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University.This campaign aims to raise awareness about Postnatal Depression amongst young parents inSingapore, and the importance of support mothers should receive to achieve mental wellness.
*Names have been changed to protect their privacy
To learn more about how to maintain your mental well-being during the postnatal period, view the Postnatal Mental Wellness booklet, aninitiative produced in collaboration with KK Women’s and Children’s Hospitaland National University Hospital –http://bit.ly/2nJ7ecF