About ten per cent of all mothers develop postnatal depression (PND). In many ways this is different and separate from the baby blues.
PND is longer-lasting, more serious, and needs rapid medical attention. It's a psychiatric disorder that can get out of hand if left untreated, and it's vital to get medical help early. With treatment, your depression should improve in a few weeks; the longer PND is untreated, the longer it takes to resolve.
Symptoms of postnatal depression
PND has many symptoms, and different women experience these in varying combinations. As well as depressive symptoms, such as hopelessness and despondency, sufferers can experience lethargy, anxiety, tension, panic, sleep difficulties, loss of interest in sex, obsessional thoughts, feelings of guilt, and lack of self-esteem and concentration.
Treatment for postnatal depression
Drugs will help you recover from postnatal depression, but you'll need lots of support from family and friends, too. There are also things you can do for yourself. Your doctor will normally prescribe antidepressant drugs, taking breastfeeding into account. Over a period of time, these will bring about a gentle and gradual improvement, and it's important to keep taking your medication, even after you start feeling better. Some drugs may have side effects such as a dry mouth, drowsiness, and confused thoughts. If you find that any of these side effects interfere with your daily life or upset you, ask your doctor about changing your medication.
If you find your feelings of depression get worse before your period, tell your doctors. They may be able to prescribe further medication to prevent this severe form of premenstrual tension.
This is a rare psychotic form of postnatal depression that affects about one in 1,000 mothers. The sufferer loses contact with reality, may experience delusions or hallucinations, and always has to spend some time in hospital. Treatment may include drugs, psychotherapy, and/or electroconvulsive therapy.
Self-help for depression
If you're feeling low, there are things you can do to help yourself. The most important thing is to tell yourself that you will get better, no matter how long it takes.
Rest as much as you can
Being tired makes depression worse and harder to cope with. Catnap during the day and, if possible, get someone to help with night feeds.
Have plenty of fruit and raw vegetables; don't snack or binge on chocolates and sweet biscuits. Eat little and often. Don't go on a strict diet.
Take gentle exercise during postnatal depression
Give yourself a rest from being indoors or taking care of the baby. A brisk walk in the fresh air helps to lift the spirits.
Avoid major upheavals
Don't move house or redecorate.
Try not to worry
Aches and pains are common after childbirth, and more so if you're depressed. Try to take them in your stride; they'll almost certainly fade away as soon as you can relax.
Be kind to yourself
Don't force yourself to do things you don't want to do or that might upset you. Take on small, undemanding tasks, one at a time, and reward yourself when you finish them.
Talk about your feelings
Don't bottle up your worries; this will only make matters worse. Talk to others about what you're going through, particularly your partner.
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