By Dr Katharina Schramm MD, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist
Published in Baby Surrey, January/February 2015
Having a baby is one of the most joyful experiences in life, but it can also be quite overwhelming and frightening.
As a new mum there are enormous hormonal changes to deal with and it is therefore quite normal to feel tired, tense and tearful in the first days of your newborn’s life. This is called the ‘baby blues’, and it usually starts between three to five days after giving birth and lasts up to a week. It’s not an illness - but simply normal feelings during a transitional period of adjusting to a great change in your life.
If those feelings last for longer than two weeks, they could be the first signs of an illness that will not go away on its own. It is called postnatal depression (PND) and is a recognised and treatable condition that affects approximately one in five mothers and up to one in ten fathers. As it is a very common - but often unrecognised – illness, it is important to take seriously any early warning signs like feeling exhausted, anxious or hopeless.
Discuss these warning signs with your health care professional such as your midwife, or you could use the safe environment of a postnatal check to discuss any concerns with your doctor. Your doctor can help you with debriefing about your birth experience which will aid you in making sense of any intense and possibly traumatic experiences.
It is also helpful to get your baby checked by your GP or paediatrician to make sure they are as healthy and happy as possible. There are safe and easy measures to help your baby feel better that often increase the chance of a good night’s sleep for both of you. This is especially important as excessive fatigue can exacerbate your emotional strain. You can even approach your doctor before your baby is born to get advice on preventive measures. This is particularly important if you have suffered from depression in the past. If you took antidepressant medication before becoming pregnant, you should discuss the risks and benefits of continuing treatment during pregnancy and breastfeeding with your doctor.
It is crucial to remember that while postnatal depression can be distressing, frightening and very lonely - talking to your health care professional about your worries is the first and most important step towards getting better.