You may be surprised to learn that about four out of five new mothers experience the baby blues. True, some mums are upbeat right from the birth of their child, but the majority are more apprehensive and less self-assured.
The overwhelming responsibilities of caring for a newborn – coupled with radical changes in lifestyle – frequently lead to mild feelings of depression and anxiety.
Arising usually within the first week following delivery, these mood disorders are so common that most professionals regard them as normal. Thankfully, the baby blues pass within a few days or weeks without treatment.
Postnatal depression, however, is more extreme and can last throughout the first year rather than only a few weeks.
Around one in 10 women experience depression that is so severe – and has such a negative effect on their relationship with their babies – that professional help is required.
It can cause the new mum to lose her self-con dence, appetite and sex drive, as well as develop poor sleeping patterns and anxiety attacks.
However, many psychologists maintain that the baby blues and postnatal depression are not separate conditions, but simply different points on the continuum.
Women with the baby blues are often too embarrassed to admit their feelings to their spouse or friends.
The image of parenthood promoted in the media is one in which the new mum sits in all her splendour in the maternity ward, holding a silent, contented baby in her arms, while she chats con dently with her admiring husband.
It takes courage to accept that the reality can be different from that rosy picture, and to admit that not everything is going according to plan.
If you think you may be experiencing depression – mild or strong – be honest about it. Pretending that these feelings do not exist isn’t the answer and won’t make them go away.
Here are some suggestions to help you smile again:
Speak candidly Tell your husband exactly how you feel, no matter how irrational your worries may seem. You can also talk to a close friend or with your family doctor.
Talk to other new mothers You may be surprised and reassured to nd that your experience is not unique. Sharing worries with other women in the same situation can have a very supportive and positive effect.
Don’t feel guilty Harsh comments – such as “You should be ashamed of yourself, behaving like this when you’ve got a lovely new baby” – are totally unhelpful. They only produce pangs of guilt and should be ignored. This pull-yourself-together approach falls short of the sensitivity required to help you cope with your anxieties.
Remember that these feelings usually pass Few women slip into the role of motherhood naturally. For most, being a mother is something that has to be learnt. Anxiety and depression usually eases with increased con dence.
If these techniques alone are not enough to lift your spirits, you should seek professional help. The most effective way to resolve severe postnatal depression combines both a psychological and medical approach.