As you’ve now discovered, childbirth is a stressful experience and coping with your baby in this first year is very demanding, both physically and psychologically. It’s hardly surprising that new mums often feel a whole range of positive and negative feelings immediately, following the birth of their baby.
True, some mothers are very optimistic and upbeat right from the start, but others – perhaps the majority – are more apprehensive, less self-assured and with a lower level of self-confidence, says child psychologist Dr Richard C. Woolfson.
Bear in mind that childbirth is an enormous strain on your body, the intensity depending on many factors, including your health, the length of the labour and the method of delivery. Then there is increased tiredness due to your baby’s feeding, sleeping and bathing schedule.
There may be other stresses for you, including lack of privacy with your spouse (because you are constantly surrounded by visitors), lack of understanding from other people (“In my day, you just got on with it”), and perhaps unhelpful comments (“I don’t know how you manage with your baby screaming all the time”).
Pressures like these frequently lead to mild feelings of depression and anxiety in the first few days. Known as “the baby blues”, these temporary emotions are so common that most professionals regard them as normal.
They are an almost predictable psychological reaction to the responsibility of caring for a new baby, coupled with the radical change in lifestyle that accompanies motherhood.
Postnatal depression (PND), however, is much more severe and extreme. It lasts throughout the first year rather than just the first few weeks.
Here are some facts about the baby blues and PND:
– Around 80 per cent of new mothers experience the baby blues, usually within five days following delivery. However, this feeling usually passes within a few days without treatment.
– Around 10 per cent of new mothers experience PND. This feeling is so severe and has such a negative effect on their relationship with their baby that professional help is required.
– PND is less frequent in women who have a lively and responsive baby, who are financially secure and who can talk about their concerns.
– PND can cause the new mum to experience loss of self-confidence, poor sleeping patterns, loss of appetite, diminished sex drive, tearfulness, and unpredictable anxiety attacks.
– Many psychologists claim that the baby blues and PND are not separate conditions, but instead are simply different points on the one continuum.
– PND also affects the mother-baby relationship. A baby whose mother has long-term PND is at a much higher risk of having emotional and relationship difficulties.
If you find that you have some of these emotions:
Be honest with yourself Pretending these feelings do not exist isn’t the answer. Denial of your worries won’t make them go away. The earlier they are tackled, the better.
Talk to your husband Tell him how you feel, even if your worries may seem silly. If you don’t have a partner, talk to your close friend or to your doctor.
Talk to other new mothers You’ll be reassured to find that your experience is not unique, that others lack confidence, too. Sharing worries with others can be helpful.
Kick guilt into touch It’s not your fault that you feel this way. Nor is it your baby’s fault. In fact, it’s not anybody’s fault, it’s just one of those things.
Remember that these feelings usually pass in time As with most new tasks, your feelings of anxiety and depression will usually ease as you become more confident.
Get professional help If your anxiety, worries and low mood persist for, say more than eight weeks, speak to your doctor.