You may feel down after having a baby – this is known as the ‘baby blues’. These feelings usually only last a day or two but for those who experience postnatal depression, it lasts longer than a couple of days.
Postnatal depression is moderate to severe depression occurring in a woman within the first 3 to 12 months after childbirth and it’s more common than most people realise. If the baby blues don’t go away, you may be developing postnatal depression. Ask for help. Postnatal depression can be treated.
You may have postnatal depression if you:
- always feel tired
- cry a lot
- feel that you are a bad mother
- have aches and pains
- think bad thoughts
- do not sleep well, even when your baby is asleep
- feel that you can’t cope with anything, such as housework
- feel anxious or uncertain all of the time
- don’t care about how you or things around you look
- get angry with other people around you, such as your partner, other children or your whānau.
Any woman who has a baby is quite likely to feel some of these things, some of the time. However, you’re likely to be experiencing postnatal depression if these feelings do not go away.
This can happen to women who have never been mentally unwell before. Others may have had depression or a psychotic illness in the past. Regardless of what has happened before, the symptoms and treatment are similar.
The major difference between this form of depression compared to others is that it involves a newborn baby as well as the mother therefore it is really important to seek help early. Because postnatal depression can affect how you feel about, and care for, your baby and other children it is important not to ignore any signs. Talk to your midwife or doctor immediately.
You can also find out more about depression and get support from:
- the Depression Helpline (0800 111 757)
- Lifeline (0800 543 354)
- the Samaritans (0800 726 666)
- Youthline (0800 376 633)
- Plunket (0800 933 922)
- the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand
- the Postnatal Distress Support Network Trust.
Partners, fathers and other support people need to know what to do if they are worried about you. They should understand that it’s OK to ask for advice about the best way to support you.
If you have had depression or another mental illness before, you might like to think about the help or support you may need after your baby is born. You could ask other people to be ready to help you, or let people know what to look for, so that you can get help early.
How can you look after yourself?
If you have depression, it can be hard to do the very things you need to do to take care of yourself. By choosing every day to do one small thing for yourself, you will slowly start to feel better.
From the following ideas find what works best for you for those times when you feel down or anxious.
- Track your mood. You may find there are times of the day when you feel better and can get more done. Likewise, you may find triggers or activities you find more draining. Discuss these findings with your doctor or health providers.
- Keep active. Physical activity is very helpful for everyone and an excellent way to help manage anxiety and low mood, reduce stress hormones etc.
- Establish good sleep routines. While interrupted sleep is normal once you have a baby, there are things you can do to foster good sleep routines. Try to keep to develop a good bedtime routine which gives you time to unwind before bed and keeps bedtime and wake times relatively regular.
- Structured problem solving. Some people are naturally good problem solvers. Most of us are not, especially when tired, stressed or depressed. This is an evidence-based approach and easy to learn.
- Plan activities. Plan some specific activities a week ahead. Having something to look forward to, someone to catch up with, or some relaxation time while someone cares for baby are all great activities to improve balance and wellbeing. Planning ahead and writing it down also helps with getting the day to day activities done. Set yourself small goals each day you can achieve and feel good about.
- Develop a good support system. This is so important. Reach out to friends and family, accept their offers of help and build your support network. Join a local mothers' group, play group or coffee group. Spend time with people who make you feel good and are emotionally supportive.
- WRAP: Wellness Recovery Action Plan. This is another proven strategy anyone can set up and benefit from. Write a list of things that help you when you're having a bad day or feeling down e.g., ring a friend, take the baby for a walk, play some music, dance, do something creative, put some nice clothes on and do your hair, journalling, join a class and learn something new.
- Find ways to give and help others. There is always someone worse off and better off than yourself. Look for little ways to help brighten someone else's day and in doing so it often brighten's yours.