THE DARK BLUE DAYS
Baby blues affect most mothers and pass quickly, but postnatal depression is more serious and requires intervention. Here’s how to distinguish between the two
EVERY ADVERT of a new mom and her baby paints a rosy picture of love and contentment. But what happens when motherhood doesn’t feel miraculous – when you can’t see the rosy picture and when you feel so anxious about this new life you can hardly enjoy the simple moments of caring for your baby?
If this sounds familiar, you may well be suffering from baby blues or postnatal depression, otherwise known as postnatal distress. The word distress is a better descriptor for PND than depression because not everyone who has PND experiences depression. Many moms find the overwhelming symptoms are anxiety and fear, rather than sadness and despair. THE SCALE OF PND As many as 30 percent of moms experience some form of postnatal distress, which encompasses a wide range of conditions, from baby blues to postnatal psychosis.
The postnatal distress we refer to as the baby blues are very mild and short lived. They are usually limited to the first few days after delivery and are strongly influenced by hormonal shifts. You may feel overwhelmed, sad, dependent and vulnerable. You may have difficulty sleeping and experience high levels of anxiety. However, these feelings do not linger and within a week or two you love being a mom and look back on the feelings as opposed to having them linger.
On the opposite end of the continuum is postnatal psychosis. This is the most severe form of postnatal distress. It is rare but exceptionally dangerous as the mom poses a risk to herself and/or her baby. Often the mom is out of touch with the severity of her symptoms. She may hallucinate or have episodes of mania. Postnatal psychosis is a reason for admission to hospital.
Postnatal depression falls somewhere in the middle of the range. Some moms feel very sad and have no energy or will struggle to engage with their babies, while others are so anxious that they don’t interact with their little ones out of fear of harming the baby. Many moms feel angry, particularly towards their partners and may resent the world for going on while they are trapped in a tunnel with no light at the end of it.
No matter what your experience of postnatal distress is, you should chat it through with someone – be it your partner, a friend, your doctor or clinic nurse. WHAT PND DOES PND affects not only your ability to carry out daily tasks such as planning meals, getting yourself dressed and caring for your baby, but it also affects the way you interact with your partner and engage with your baby. Many women feel brittle and angry towards their partners – it feels unfair that he can escape the responsibility of this new life. Of course this is not a logical feeling or thought, but then not much is logical when you feel this distressed. In addition, PND can impact on your interaction with your baby. It may prevent you from spontaneously engaging, making eye contact and responding to your baby’s little coos. On an emotional level this has negative effects on your baby.
It is these two effects of PND that pose a great risk for your future. Risking your relationship with your partner and not connecting with your new baby can have devastating long-term consequences. It is for this reason that you should seek help as soon as possible.
WHAT TO DO If you think you may have PND the first step is to find out if you do. PNDSA (Post Natal Depression Support Association) has an amazing website – pndsa.org.za. Here you can take an online test to see if you have PND. This would be the first step in the right direction. From there you can find the right intervention to help you manage your PND. YB