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Having a child is often said to be one of the happiest chapters in a woman’s life. However, to some of 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.
An women could well manage her baby with their presence and experience. In order to fulfil her new role as a mother, she took on every task that was baby-related. Daily chores like changing nappies, sterilising milk bottles and making milk became a normal routine which she enjoyed.
However, things took a change after a month. “From a loving and caring mother, to become no longer wanted to have my baby,” Women might started losing appetite and sleep, and even turned a deaf ear when her baby cried. The lovey-dovey motherly feeling just slipped away. That was when she knew that she was suffering from PND.
Causes For Alarm
One of the many women dealing with PND, which affects about 10 to 15% of postnatal women. The causes are often multifactorial, with one of the main factors being the 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 change in lifestyle from being a couple to a parent, complications during childbirth, lack of social support, 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 mother feel anxious, unable to sleep or have poor sleep, and teary for very little reason. The symptoms usually lasts for up to 10-14 days.
If the condition persists past 14 days, then it could possibly be PND, 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 mood throughout the day, have very low energy levels, display anxiety symptoms, and find it hard to enjoy anything. They could also develop a sense of guilt for not coping very well, which results in self-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 chapter did not start out smoothly as Suzie had PND after the birth of their first child. “There was once when she woke up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet and couldn’t find her way 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 the living 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 her normal self. However, she didn’t realise she was going through depression; she only knew she had all these fear and anxiety gripping her.”
Suzie managed to seek treatment at hospitals, and have since recovered from the condition.
The Postnatal Struggle
Regardless of whether a woman has PND or not, all mothers face similar challenges during the postnatal 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 challenges they faced after childbirth. One of the common challenges that mothers face after childbirth is breastfeeding, which does not come instinctively and is a learnt behaviour. According to mummy blogger Jayme, she struggled during the first few months after childbirth due to breastfeeding issues. “I wanted to totally breastfeed my baby but I didn’t have that kind of supply to match up yet. Nowadays, everyone is so open about breastfeeding. They want to breastfeed their babies exclusively and not give supplements or formula milk to their babies, and that adds on to the pressure.”
Good coaching and support are needed to breastfeed successfully. While there may be a lot of pressure 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 the clock, 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. “Babies are very unpredictable. I realised that I couldn’t do everything on my own and learned that I could lean on the people around me who loved and cared for my baby as much as I did. I had the tendency of trying to be ‘Superwoman’; rather than accepting help, I always tried to do everything by myself before I seek help. My mum raised me on her own after my dad passed away, so my impression of a mother was someone who could do everything. As a child, I guess I didn’t know what help she got along the way, so to me it was like magic. She could do everything and I aspired so much to be like her. I thought I could do it all, but the truth is everyone needs to have a huge support system in order to 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 their recovery. Coping with mood disorders alone is extremely difficult and having an understanding partner who provides emotional comfort and physical involvement would help the mother tremendously.
For spouses of women with PND, emotional support involves encouraging their wives and assuring them that they are doing well, while their physical workload can be lightened by helping to look after the baby to allow them to go out and engage in some activities which they might have given up because of motherhood. Even for mothers who are not depressed, support will help to buffer against the likely stress in the postnatal period.
Another thing that the husband and the extended family can help with is to give the mother as much 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 sleep deprived, and although they may tide through the first month fairly well looking after the baby full time and getting woken up many times a night, it will eventually take a toll on them.
If a woman had depression in the past or has very poor social support, treatment via counselling or psychotherapy will be recommended. For moderate to severe depression, educational lifestyle advice 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 read all these resources, but the most important thing is to read your child. What works for others might not work for you, and what works on one child might not necessarily work on the next even 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 we made when caring for the baby because sometimes we get into a guilt trap. We should also learn to ask for help too. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t mean that you’re weak and you’re not a good mother,” said Jayme as she shared about what she learnt while 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.