If you’ve been wanting a baby for a long time, you might be confused about feeling negative, down and unhappy. Postnatal depression might stop us from feeling grateful, lucky, or joyful about a new family member.
But, the new-born stage is a tough, sleepless gig. We can’t know its mental health impact until we go through it. Your ever-demanding bundle of joy will leave you exhausted, overwhelmed and anxious, that’s for sure.
We’ve all heard about the baby blues. 80% of all women experience it after birth. And while undesirable, the baby blues go away naturally. But sometimes, these symptoms can persist and become destabilising.
An indiscriminate illness, postnatal depression can affect anyone. It’s also a completely treatable disease from which you can fully recover. But despite its random nature, many people think it makes them look like unfit parents who can’t care for a baby.
Read on if you’re struggling with alarming symptoms or know someone who is.
Outline of Postnatal Depression
Postnatal depression or postnatal depression is a mental illness experienced after childbirth. It affects ten to 15 per cent of mothers and may also impact men and children.
No one knows the exact cause, but its development could be chemically rooted. Pregnant women produce a lot of oestrogen and progesterone. These hormone levels fall to pre-pregnancy levels after birth. Experts believe the sudden drop triggers postnatal depression in women.
While hormonal changes might be considered, other risk factors are at play. The sufferers’ genes, age, significant life changes, and more may cause or aggravate depression.
Is Baby Blues the Same as Postnatal Depression?
Postpartum depression is far worse than the baby blues.
Baby blues are common and short-lived, while postpartum depression is a serious mental illness that lasts longer. You can be sick for up to a year or more if you don’t get treatment.
The baby blues take place a couple of days after labour, with symptoms lasting days to one or two weeks. Rest, exercise, and a healthy diet support recovery.
Rather than improving, postnatal depression symptoms get worse. However, recovery is possible with medications and therapy.
Do I Have the Baby Blues or Postnatal Depression?
People might think postnatal depression and baby blues are the same. They’re not.
Their first symptoms might be similar, which can make it harder to tell postpartum depression apart from the baby blues at the start.
While difficult, noticing their minor differences equates to early treatment and fast recovery.
You might experience the below symptoms with the baby blues.
- Fluctuating happy to sad mood swings.
- Decreased appetite and being unable to look after oneself.
- Irritability, crankiness, tearfulness and low mood generally.
Postnatal depression looks different for different people and ranges from mild to severe. You might experience many of these symptoms on this list or a few. You could also have unusual emotions or behaviours we haven’t listed.
If you think you have depression from this list, visit a health professional for diagnosis and treatment.
Symptoms can appear before birth and last a year. However, postpartum depression can continue for longer if untreated. While some women are immediately impacted, others might be affected several weeks or months later.
Some of these postnatal depression symptoms could be present.
- Persistent feelings of sadness, loneliness, depression, or worthlessness.
- Unrealistic desire to be perfect.
- Self-doubt in your maternity (or paternal) abilities.
- Extreme and rapidly changing mood swings.
- Inability to connect with your child.
- Grieving your pre-baby self.
- Disinterest in engaging in everyday activities.
- Low concentration span.
- Withdrawing from people and society.
- Sleeplessness or oversleeping.
- Rapid weight gain, loss and changes in appetite.
- Inability to take care of yourself and your baby.
- Overwhelming despair and panic or anxiety attacks.
- Disturbing thoughts about harming the baby.
- Paranoid thinking and anxious ruminations about your baby’s health and safety.
- Auditory or visual hallucinations linked to postpartum psychosis.
- Suicidal ideations.
Am I at Risk for Postnatal Depression?
Postpartum depression can randomly affect anyone, like other diseases and illnesses.
It has no singular cause. Yet, some people might display these risk factors.
Next to hormone levels, genetics could be the no. 1 predictor of postnatal depression.
In other words, if the mental illness runs through your family or you’ve previously battled depression, your chances increase. With that said, you’re not immune even if you don’t have a mental health history.
Many young people, including teenage mothers, might grapple with depression.
Factors like their age, emotional immaturity or low income make young parents vulnerable.
Experiencing Major Stress Or Traumatic Events
It goes without saying that you should go big changes after having a baby. But what if you don’t have a choice?
Some events like death or divorce are unavoidable. There’s a lot on your plate if you’re coping with stress, loss or grief while caring for a newborn.
Postnatal Depression and Breastfeeding
Some research says that breastfeeding might reduce the risk of postnatal depression.
However, findings also show that PPD might seriously impact mothers who want to nurse but can’t. Not being able to feed their child might spark depression.
Interestingly, women who didn’t plan to breastfeed but do might also be at risk. Feeling trapped because their baby depends on them for food could be mentally taxing.
The Emotional Stress Of Having A Child
Adjusting to wakeful nights and a crying or fussy baby is challenging. The stress and anxiety of it all might seem unmanageable.
Unstable Home Life, Trauma And Abuse
According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), five per cent of adults experienced domestic violence in the year ending in March 2022. It wouldn’t be surprising, then, if there’s an overlap between mothers in violent or abusive relationships and postpartum depression.
It might be that the depressed person can’t quickly exit the relationship or gets depressed because of their abusive partner.
Complicated Emotions Around Maternity Leave
Being on maternity leave can arouse confronting emotions. Mothers might miss working and their old lives. Otherwise, they might struggle to be away from their babies at work. These experiences could give rise to postnatal depression symptoms.
How To Avoid Postnatal Depression
As they say, prevention is better than a cure, but is this true of mental illness? You can’t avoid it, but if you’re at risk, you can reduce your chances of developing postnatal depression.
See a healthcare professional to discuss if you need treatment. Regular therapy might benefit you and prepare you for the future if you’re vulnerable to depression.
Look at the below to lower your odds of postnatal depression.
Recognise the tell-tale signs and symptoms, know when to ask for help, and explore treatments with your doctor.
Look After Yourself
Your focus is your child, so where does that leave you? We’re told to rest as much as possible and look after ourselves. But how can we with a demanding baby?
You have limited free time with a new-born, so take steps to look after yourself now. Get enough sleep, eat well and exercise regularly.
Prepare Yourself for Childbirth
Many moms know how they want to bring their children into this world.
Sometimes, things go wrong in the delivery room. Labour might not only be exhausting and sore but traumatic for the mother and parents.
Prepare yourself for all birthing scenarios. Attend childbirth classes, chat with other mothers, and read.
How To Treat Postnatal Depression
Although frightening and isolating, you can bounce back the sooner you get help.
Various treatment options are available. Chat with your healthcare professional about which are best for you.
Mental Health Counselling Or Talk Therapy
Counselling or talk therapy is recommended for PPD sufferers. Cognitive behavioural and interpersonal therapy are highly effective treatment methods.
A type of talking therapy, CBT, focuses on managing problems by reshaping how someone thinks and behaves. For example, a woman with PPD might blame herself for not being a perfect mother. With CBT, she’ll learn to set realistic goals and think differently about herself.
As the name suggests, interpersonal therapy focuses on the problems and dynamics in relationships. Rather than being impartial, therapists often play a more active role in therapy sessions. Part of what they do is assess how you communicate with others. They might also provide options for change.
Drugs for Postnatal Depression
Doctors might prescribe these medications in combination with therapy.
SSRIs or antidepressants, used to increase serotonin in the brain, are usually the first-choice drug for treating depression.
But while effective, antidepressants aren’t risk-free while breastfeeding. Ask your doctor if you can take this type of medication while you’re nursing – some are safer than others.
Additionally, SSRIs have some unpleasant side effects. They’re also slow-acting, so it might take a few weeks to see positive changes.
Oestrogen levels decrease after giving birth. Replace the hormone with oestrogen patches.
But first, talk to your doctor before using them if you breastfeed. Oestrogen can get into your milk, affecting its quality and the amount you produce.
Along with professional help, you can speed up your recovery in the following ways.
– Talk to Friends, Family and Co-Parent
Discussing how you are shouldn’t be restricted to therapy. Talk to others about your feelings, and let them know they can support you.
Sharing and being honest with your partner will feel like you’re in this together.
– Ask For Help When You Need It
Everyday tasks might seem overwhelming or impossible with postnatal depression. Lean on others for help. They can help around the house or watch the baby.
– Attend PPD Groups
Talking and being around others with PPD could provide you with the necessary postnatal depression support and insights. You can learn from other mothers’ experiences and how they dealt with what you’re going through.
– Carve Out Some Time for Yourself
Life looks different now, with less freedom than before. Still, you can go out with friends and enjoy things baby-free.
Even if it’s for a short time, going for a walk, having a coffee or seeing loved ones is a helpful serotonin boost.
– Rest When You Can
Mothers are often told to rest when the baby rests. Easier said than done, right? You need to do a million things. That said, your health and your baby are the two most important things – you can delegate these responsibilities.
Can Men Suffer Postnatal Depression?
While many women suffer postpartum depression, men are also affected. Paternal postpartum depression hits many fathers too. They might start feeling depressed from the first trimester and up until the first six months of the baby’s life.
Like maternal postnatal depression, there’s no single cause for it.
From feeling helpless about the mom’s depression to hormone issues, these are the most common predictors of postpartum depression in fathers.
Decreases in Testosterone
Men’s testosterone sometimes drops shortly after birth, with cortisol, oestrogen and prolactin levels increasing. This sudden dip, which can affect men psychologically, is inexplicable.
Maternal Postnatal Depression
Hormonal changes contribute to paternal postpartum depression. However, having a mentally unwell partner or co-parent is a more common explanation. Unsurprisingly, men might higher degree of depression if the mother of their child has maternal postpartum depression.
The new born stage is when the mother and child bond the most as she breastfeeds. This can leave the father feeling redundant and left out.
Postpartum depression, in this case, might stem from feeling disconnected and being shut out of mother-child interactions.
Although the mother might not be acting intentionally, she could leave the dad out or not give him enough time with the little one.
Emotional Adjustment and Sleep Deprivation
Bringing a child into this world is draining. Becoming a parent means dealing with intense change and sleeping less.
A Crying or Fussy Baby
A difficult or colicky baby might be met with anxiety, fear or irritability.
Unable to soothe one’s baby, a parent might think they’re failing, made worse if the mother can settle their offspring and they can’t. Otherwise, they may have doubts about having a kid when parenthood turns out less rosy than expected.
Paternal Postnatal Depression Symptoms
The classic signs of postpartum depression are different in men.
Men become irritable, angry or aggressive when depressed. They might adopt unhealthy or impulsive coping mechanisms, such as heavy drinking. Depression might also manifest physically with stomach pain or nausea symptoms.
If you’ve noticed something’s wrong with a partner or loved one, they might have these symptoms.
- Easily angered
- Likely to pick a fight or pursue conflict unprovoked
- Drinking more
- Quick to frustrate
- A tendency toward violent behaviour
- Risk-taking and escapism
- Increasingly cynical and negative
- Easily discouraged
- Zero interest in hobbies or socialising
- Low libido
- Suicidal thoughts
- Headaches, digestive issues or body pain
Suffering in Silence: Stigmatising Paternal Postnatal Depression
While we recognise postpartum depression in women, many of us don’t know about paternal postnatal depression. Not only that, but some might refuse to accept that it exists.
A high degree of stigma against male mental health problems stops people who need it from getting help. Society demands you to be the strong and supportive rock. People might view a depressed man as weak or failing as a parent.
But the facts don’t lie, and ten per cent of fathers get depressed. This figure is twice as high as the average male population. Despite this alarming rate, male sufferers might not speak out. They might feel shame or think they can sort it out themselves.
Postpartum also appears differently in men. People know more about classic female symptoms and less about the male signs. Therefore, postnatal depression in men might be overlooked or misdiagnosed.
How Does Post Natal Depression Affect Children?
Does postpartum depression affect children’s health and development? Or is the baby too young to experience long-term effects?
Multiple studies show that while childhood development occurs over a prolonged period, postnatal depression can acutely affect a child in their formative years. The degree of care, support and attention they receive over this time is crucial for a healthy development.
From physical health to cognitive delays and psychopathy, PPD is disruptive in these aspects of development.
Mothers and fathers with postpartum depression might be too sick to pay attention to their baby’s basic medical needs. They might not realise their child is unwell or skip baby check-ups or vaccinations due to a poor state of health.
Infant Connection and Emotional Development
Babies need and crave closeness. Breastfeeding is one way to provide adequate nutrition for the growing infant and satisfy their intimacy needs.
A healthy mother provides milk, care and attention to her child. But if she’s depressed, she might struggle to breastfeed, impairing the bond between her and her child.
This impairment can negatively influence how infants regulate their behaviours, interact with the world, and build trust.
In those early months, women with PPD act toward their babies in one of two ways: they’ll become intrusive or withdraw.
Depressed mothers who react intrusively disrupt their child’s activity. The child might respond by internalising their anger, pulling away and developing a protective coping style.
More commonly, the parent starts to withdraw and disengage. In response to this inattentiveness, the baby becomes passive and forms unhealthy self-regulatory behaviours like thumb-sucking.
Low Cognitive Performance and Cognitive Delays
If they don’t receive a wide range of regular learning stimulants as babies, children might experience irreversible cognitive delays and poor cognitive performance later.
Findings from a comparative study in the Journal Of Child Psychology and psychiatry concluded that intellectual problems could arise in school children with depressed mothers. In addition, kids are twice more likely to attain lower maths scores than those with mentally healthy parents.
Mental Health Problems
Is depression passed down, caused by postpartum depression or a combination of both? While many believe that depression is hereditary, postpartum depression has been connected to adolescent depression in offspring from 18.
But should we ignore the role of genetics? Women with previous mental health issues are more likely to experience postpartum depression, so maybe these problems are inherited.
Be that as it may, even with risk factors, treating the mother’s depression can reduce the risk of future emotional problems in her child.
Children between three and four are twice more likely to have behavioural problems when one or both parents suffer postpartum depression.
Children are products of their environment and upbringing. And with that, depressed parents might be poor role models for appropriate conduct. Children may learn negative and antisocial behaviours, such as impatience, aggression, violent outbursts, avoidance and irritability from their mothers or fathers.
If you’re expected to feel happy, grateful and excited about having a baby, then why are you completely miserable, depressed, tearful and resentful of your child?
Many people struggle with adjusting to life with kids and the complicated set of emotions that follow. Couple sleeplessness with anxiety, fear, and guilt can leave you in a bad space mentally.
We need to talk about postnatal depression, a major mental illness that men and women struggle with after having babies. Although treatable, it’s still underreported worldwide. Mothers and fathers might fear admitting they need help because of the stigma attached to postpartum depression. You might think, “am I a bad parent?” or “will my baby be taken from me” or “what did I do wrong to get sick?”.
And while postnatal depression has proven to be real and serious, people view it as a women’s mental health issue. People don’t know or accept that men can also become mentally unwell. But the effects of postpartum depression are as dangerous, upending and even life-threatening for both men and women. The sooner we realise that both parents can get depressed, the sooner they can get help and reduce the impact depression has on their quality of life and their families.
Finally, does postpartum depression affect our babies? Yes, mental illness can have adverse consequences on children. Therefore, mums and dads need early treatment. Reducing the depression symptoms of the mother or father helps a vulnerable child.
Postnatal Depression Support
If you or a loved one need urgent help with a mental health crisis, contact the NHS on 111 or telephone Samaritans at 116123, available 24/7.