Most new mums are familiar term postnatal depression but only rarely do they understand what it actually is.
What it really is.
If you are expecting a baby, your midwife most likely informs you about this mental illness.
However, the information they provide is often short and rather theoretical.
Most antenatal classes help you to prepare for labour and the birth of your baby but only rarely do they talk about postnatal mental health.
This is rather shocking as statistics say that 58% of new mums who experience depression never seek help because they don’t understand the condition.
Some expecting mums feel like postnatal depression doesn’t concern them, while other mums have questions they are too scared to ask.
In this post, I share crucial information about postnatal depression every new mum should be aware of.
15 burning questions about postnatal depression answered
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this post, let’s get over what postnatal depression actually is.
After that, I will share with you surprising and little-known facts about postnatal depression and give you some detailed information on how PND actually feels, how to recognise PND, and how PND can affect your life.
1. What is postnatal depression?
NHS defines PND as a type of depression that many parents experience after having a baby. It’s a common problem, affecting more than 1 in every 10 women within a year of giving birth. It can also affect fathers and partners and can start anytime in the first year after giving birth.
This is all very accurate.
However, being a PND survivor, I couldn’t help but create my own definition and clarify how it feels to have postnatal depression.
How does it feel to have postnatal depression?
First and foremost, I have to point out that postnatal depression doesn’t mean being depressed about having a baby.
It is an illness and it has nothing to do with the love you have for your baby or with your motherhood skills.
When you suffer from postnatal depression, you feel like something took over your brain and left you completely helpless.
It is not you anymore.
You don’t understand people who laugh and enjoy life.
All you feel is intense emptiness.
You are just a body without a soul.
All you want to do is cry.
You don’t trust yourself.
You see no point in living.
You are convinced your loved ones would be better off without you.
It is the darkest and scariest place you can get to and the hardest place to come back from.
The worst thing is that you often don’t know that you have it, you simply feel like you have failed.
This is what makes postnatal depression extremely dangerous and why it’s crucial to seek help.
(If you want to look into this subject on a deeper level, please check out my course for new mums Get Prepared for Motherhood Like No One Else.)
2. What is the difference between postpartum and postnatal?
Both terms refer to the period after birth.
However, postpartum is correlated with the mother’s condition after birth, whereas postnatal relates to the baby.
Postpartum is also more commonly used in the US while postnatal is more common in Australia and UK.
3. What is the difference between postnatal depression and baby blues?
‘Baby blues’ is a normal part of motherhood where a new mum adjust to the changes that come with the baby.
When you have baby blues you feel tearful, irritable, sad, and emotional for no apparent reason.
It usually starts in the week after you’ve given birth and can last up to one month although it usually subsides earlier, when the baby is around 10 days old.
Postnatal depression can feel like baby blues in the beginning so it can be challenging to recognise it.
However, the symptoms of PND last longer than the symptoms of baby blues and can interfere with your ability to function and look after your baby.
4. How does it feel to have postnatal depression?
As stated on the NHS website, signs that you or someone you know might be depressed include:
- a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
- lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the wider world
- lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
- trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day
- difficulty bonding with your baby
- withdrawing from contact with other people
- problems concentrating and making decisions
- frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your baby
Personally, I had most of these symptoms.
What I remember the most is the unstoppable urge to cry. I wanted to cry almost all the time.
Loss of appetite and no interest in things that had used to bring me joy was also very intense for me, especially when depression became severe.
I also struggled to bond with my babies and baldy missed my old life.
For a few months, I lived in a denial and didn’t want to accept that this was my life now.
And then there was this daunting inner darkness and emptiness.
The strong conviction that I was useless and that my family would have been better off without me.
Some mums who suffer from PPD are overprotective and feel extremely anxious.
They don’t want to leave their baby for one second and constantly worry that something would happen to them.
Everyone’s symptoms are different and if yours are not on the list but you feel like something is not right, do seek help!
Even if it is not depression, it might grow into it if you ignore it.
5. Why do people suffer from postpartum depression?
According to the NHS, the cause of postnatal depression isn’t completely clear and some of the factors it has been associated with include:
- previous experience of mental health problems
- biological causes
- lack of support
- difficult childhood experiences
- experience of abuse
- low self-esteem
- stressful living conditions
- major life events
Personally, I would also add to the list: unrealistic expectations about motherhood and poor/zero education about postnatal mental health.
Most antenatal classes focus mostly on information around childbirth but offer no information on life after the baby arrives and postnatal mental health which can result in feelings of guilt, failure, and severe mental health issues (including postnatal depression) in new mums.
6. Postnatal depression or just tired?
As I mentioned in point 3, postnatal depression is more than just tiredness or low mood and does not go away on its own.
If you experience symptoms mentioned in point 5 and if they last longer than 2 weeks, it is possible you have depression and you should definitely talk to someone.
7. Is postpartum depression considered an illness?
As I mentioned above, in the most severe cases of PPD, you have no control over it which is what makes it a mental illness.
PPD is a disease just like cancer or diabetes. The only difference is that it is not visible.
8. How long do you suffer from postpartum depression?
When it comes to (mental) illness, there is no one size fits all.
How long you suffer with postnatal depression depends, in my opinion, on a number of factors such as:
- your awareness of the situation (do you know you have depression?)
- your willingness to recover
- your mindset
- your life circumstances
- presence/lack of supportive community and people you can talk to
- your lifestyle
- type treatment you are getting and how you are responding to it (I will talk more about PPD treatment options below)
9. Can postnatal depression go away on its own?
10. Can they take my baby away when they find out I have postnatal depression?
Of course not!
Remember that it is an illness and doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong.
Taking your baby away would be like taking a baby away from a mother who has cancer.
If you feel you might be struggling with postnatal depression, seek help!
Your doctor, midwife, or health visitor is here to help you, not to judge you.
11. Does postnatal depression affect the baby?
Yes, especially if left untreated.
The results of the Women’s Health (Lond) Research suggest that postnatal depression creates an environment that is not conducive to the personal development of mothers or the optimal development of a child.
It is therefore important to detect and treat depression during the postnatal period as early as possible to avoid negative consequences.
12. Can postnatal depression last for years?
Postpartum depression is different for everyone.
Researchers have found many differences in symptoms between individual mums, as well as how early it starts and how long it lasts.
In some women, it can last for a few months, whereas in some it can last years after giving birth.
13. Are there any books about postnatal depression?
I talk about postnatal depression as well as share my postnatal depression story (as well as stories of 9 other first-time mums in my book Motherhood – The Unspoken.
14. Can postnatal depression happen to dads?
Yes! Postnatal depression happens to both mothers and fathers. The figure is that 1 in 10 new fathers experience postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety and their symptoms are slowly becoming more recognised, diagnosed, and treated.
15. How do you recover from postnatal depression?
The best PPD treatment starts with speaking up!
It can be challenging to talk to a professional as a first choice, so you can start with someone you trust.
Whether it’s your partner, friend, parent, sister, brother, grandparent, neighbour… Talk to them about how you feel.
Talking releases a massive pressure off your shoulders and immediately makes you feel better. Personally, talking was the best medication that helped me recover.
It might seem like a minor thing to do, but as a new mother, you need to give yourself time to adapt to the new situation.
Your life changes from one day to another but you cannot also process all these changes from one day to another. It takes time during which you need to make your life as easy as possible.
Talking will help you to process your emotions and open a space for new emotions to come in.
Not to mention that it can also give you the confidence to seek professional help which is crucial, especially when suffering from severe depression when you even have to force yourself to get out of bed.
Professional support and effective treatments include:
Psychological treatments (also known as talking therapies) can help you change your thinking patterns and improve your coping skills so you’re better equipped to deal with life’s stresses and conflicts. As well as supporting your recovery, psychological therapies can also help you stay well by identifying and changing unhelpful thoughts and behaviour. There are many different talking treatments that can be effective in treating depression:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Group-based CBT
- Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
- Behavioural activation
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy
- Behavioural couples therapy – if you have a long-term partner, and your doctor agrees that it would be useful to involve them in your treatment.
These may be recommended if your depression is more severe or other treatments haven’t helped; your doctor can prescribe medicine, often along with psychological treatments. There’s a lot of misinformation about antidepressant medication. It can be very useful in the treatment of moderate to severe depression.
Other sources of support
Exercise has been shown to help boost mood in people with mild depression. Even a 10-minute walk every day can make wonders in how you feel.
Eating well when experiencing postnatal depression can be a tough call but it is one of the best things that you can do for yourself and your recovery.
Make time for yourself
Try to do activities that you find relaxing and enjoyable. Ideally, the things you enjoyed doing before you became a parent.
There are several Facebook groups for postnatal depression and anxiety. These groups are closed so their content is confidential and is visible to the members of the group only. Of course, you can find other online forums outside Facebook too.
Most areas run a few support groups for people who struggle with mental health illnesses. Simple type in “postnatal depression support group in [your area]” and see what comes up!
There are a few wonderful charities that offer help for people who struggle with postnatal mental health. For instance:
15 Burning Questions About Postnatal Depression Answered
There you go!
As you can see, there are countless ways how you can start feeling better.
However, I know it can be really hard to take the first step, but trust me, the first one is the most important one.
The next steps follow more naturally after the initial, crucial move. If you think you might suffer from depression and are not sure, don’t lose too much time trying to work it out. You can use NHS Choices’ depression screening tool, but like I always say, as long as you feel something is not quite right, it is not ok and you need to do something about it.
Regardless of whether it is baby blues, depression, or “just” a low mood… Because when it comes to health, no problem is too small and if take the first step today, you may stop an initially small problem become a big one.
Note: If the situation is serious, if you are concerned or feel like you are a threat to yourself or your children, call 999 immediately!