31736 Dr Fysh - Oct 22, 2018
While most people have heard of postnatal depression, the causes and effects of the condition can still be greatly misunderstood.
Postnatal depression can develop a few weeks after the birth, but because of all the other changes and challenges going on at that time it is often not diagnosed for several months.
About 10% of women experience some level of postnatal depression. Consultant Paediatrician, Dr W John Fysh, says:
“This is potentially a serious problem which can be limited by early recognition and treatment. Often the early signs are put down to the fatigue of looking after a new baby & the mood changes that occur with hormonal alterations.”
Signs and symptoms
One of the reasons it can take so long to diagnose postnatal depression is the fact that some of the symptoms such as mood changes, irritability and crying are common after giving birth. These symptoms are often known as the "baby blues" and they usually clear up within a few weeks. Postnatal depression is more serious and will persist long after this initial period.
Some women experiencing postnatal depression may think that what they are going through is normal, or worry that by asking for help they are failing as a mother. It is important for partners, family members and friends to keep an eye out for symptoms. Dr W John Fysh explains:
“Partners in particular need to be aware of the symptoms to report the problem early and support new mothers as much as possible.
“The common symptoms are unhappiness, poor appetite, loss of interest in the world around you, insomnia, low self-esteem, feelings of guilt, anxiety and tiredness and panic attacks.
“There may have been a previous history of depression or anxiety or indeed postnatal depression.”
If you think that your partner, relative or friend is showing symptoms of postnatal depression, be supportive and encourage her to see a doctor.
It's very important to understand that postnatal depression is an illness. If you have it, it doesn't mean you don’t love your baby.
Postnatal depression can be a very difficult experience for all those affected. In particular it is likely to increase feelings of isolation, anxiety and fear for the mother.
Once it has been diagnosed, though, the prospects for recovery are very good. Treatments include self-help advice, talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and antidepressants.
Some women are at greater risk of postnatal depression including those with a previous history of depression, a previous history of postnatal depression and those who experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy.
If you have a history of postnatal depression, make sure your doctor is aware of this to help with early diagnosis if you do develop it again.
Preventing postnatal depression
The NHS says there are several self-help measures that can be useful in preventing postnatal depression:
“Get as much rest and relaxation as possible, take regular exercise and make sure you don’t go long periods without food as low blood sugar levels can make you feel much worse. Don’t drink alcohol because it can make you feel worse and eat a healthy, balanced diet.”
Remember postnatal depression is a treatable condition and the prospects for recovery are very good. The key is to ask for help and tell your doctor and those around you if you find you are struggling.
About Dr Fysh
Dr Fysh is one of the country’s leading consultant paediatricians, currently a consultant at The Portland Hospital for Women and Children, and a Fellow of the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health and the Royal College of Physicians. Having experienced first-hand the suffering caused by serious medical conditions to babies and young children and the emotional and financial strain that this can place on parents on a daily basis. He joined the board of directors as Chief Medical Officer and has been instrumental in the building of the NurtureFirst product.