You may find that you need extra help and support after the birth. It helps if you know what to expect – and where to find the information you need.
Postnatal depression (PND) is quite common. It affects about 10-15% of new mothers, but many more feel tired, low, occasionally distressed, isolated and lonely. It usually starts about 3 weeks or so after the birth.
Isolation does seem to be part of postnatal health and depression. It can be hard to get out and about and to stay in touch with friends when you have a new baby. Or when you do get out, everyone seems to be coping better than you are – and you feel even worse than before.
It could be that guilt and disappointment are part of depression. Maybe you feel bad because you don’t think you love your baby as much as you feel you should. Or you thought being a mom would be wonderful – and it just isn’t.
Some experts think the cause might be connected with your changing hormones. These are some of the feelings you might have if you have postnatal depression:
You wake up feeling exhausted, every day, even after a long sleep.
You find it hard to concentrate on something, or organise yourself, or other simple tasks.
You feel you’re a failure as a mom.
You can’t feel much, as if experiences are happening to someone else.
You find yourself feeling tearful, and sometimes weeping, and you aren’t sure why.
You lose track of time, and find that hours go by and you can’t be sure what you’ve been doing.
You need help if you have any of these symptoms often enough to worry you. Everyone feels tired, sad and a bit weepy from time to time – but if this is the usual thing for you, then you may have postnatal depression.
Who to ask for help:
Speak to your doctor or clinic sister about groups in your area that may be able to offer support on postnatal depression. Your doctor may prescribe anti-depressants, or refer you to seek other forms of help, like support groups.
Some medications can have an effect on your baby if you are breastfeeding so it’s important to consider this when organising your treatment. Friends, your partner and family can also help and support you. You don’t need to hide how bad you feel – you deserve a lot of support at this time. A counsellor or psychotherapist (via your doctor) can also help. ‘Talking therapy’ is regarded as the most effective in the treatment of PND. Check with your medical aid to see which type of therapy they will cover.
The important point is that PND is curable – with the right help.
Postnatal Mental Illness
Your baby needs you to feel okay, too. Long-term, postnatal depression has been shown to have an effect on babies’ development and learning.
Don’t confuse postnatal depression with the ‘baby blues’ some women have after the birth for no more than a few days.
About 1 new mom in every 500 has an especially severe form of postnatal health illness called puerperal psychosis. This means she may have hallucinations, or stay awake for days, or be extremely ‘high’ and energetic. It’s always obvious to the people around the mom that something’s not right. This form of illness is not postnatal depression, and it needs immediate medical help. Some women need to be in hospital for the right sort of help.
Return of Your Period
If you are not breastfeeding, your period usually returns 4-8 weeks after the birth.
If you are fully breastfeeding, that means with no supplementary feeds, it is likely you will not get your period until you have started to reduce the number of feeds your baby is having. This is not a rule and some women find their period returns quickly.
Although you may not have had a period, it is still possible to ovulate and fall pregnant before you start menstruating again, so you should consider your contraception method if you are not ready for another baby.
It is not uncommon for a woman’s menstrual cycle to change after childbirth. Many women report heavier bleeding, while others say their period is lighter and doesn’t last as long. Your cycle may be irregular at first, as ovulation may be erratic. It really is an individual response. If you are concerned about the amount of blood you pass while menstruating, seek advice from your doctor.