Expert / 10 May, 2021 / My Baba
Perinatal mental illness (the umbrella term for all mental health conditions around pregnancy, including the year after birth) affects around one in five expectant and new mums. Yet, maternal mental health is a topic that does not get spoken about enough.
In particular, the time following the birth of your baby is one of adaptation and for many, it can be incredibly challenging. You will likely experience emotional, mental, and physical changes that are normal and transitory. However, you may also experience more complex symptoms that need the support of health care professionals to ensure you and your baby remain safe and well.
Furthermore, there is also an important difference between post-birth ‘baby blues’, postnatal depression, anxiety and postpartum psychosis. That’s why, in line with Mental Health Awareness Week, Lesley Gilchrist, registered midwife and founder of My Expert Midwife, has shared her advice on maternal mental health to help new and expectant mums to understand this distinction and raise awareness of the support available to those who may be suffering with their mental health.
About 80% of women experience the baby blues following the birth of their baby. Sudden changes to your hormones as well as other physical factors, such as lack of sleep, pain, and loss of control over your body are the main culprits.
Emotionally, there is the realisation that you have a little human who depends on you and needs around the clock care. There is also the anxiety of guessing whether you’re doing it right, the exhaustion of having to regularly welcome visitors, and perhaps, of also being a mum to other little ones.
The baby blues usually appear on day 3 to 5 after the birth of your baby, may peak at about day 7 and disappear by the end of your second week as a mum. Symptoms tend to occur for a few hours each day and can include feelings of sadness, irritability, fatigue, crying easily and for no apparent reason.
Although normal, the symptoms you experience during the baby blues period should not be minimised or ignored. Your self-care is paramount, and it is essential that you feel supported, appreciated, and cared for as a new mother, as this will benefit you and your baby’s health and well-being in the long term.
Further to this, it is important to educate your friends and family about the likelihood of you experiencing these feelings and symptoms, as this will help them to empathise with your emotions and support you better.
Postnatal depression (PND) may affect women during pregnancy or up to a year after giving birth. It is thought to affect approximately 10-15% of new mothers in the six months following childbirth. For women who have previously experienced postnatal depression, the chances of it occurring again are between 30-50%.
Initially, symptoms of PND may appear similar to be the baby blues. However, they could present as being more severe and could dictate your emotional state throughout the day. They may also include feelings of despair, hopelessness, anger, guilt, worthlessness, extreme stress, feeling overwhelmed and, potentially, feeling detached or withdrawn from your baby or those you love. Thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby may also occur.
It is important to contact your GP, midwife, or health visitor as soon as possible if you are experiencing these symptoms or are preoccupied with thoughts that may include death and dying.
Symptoms of PND can also be physical. For instance, some women may experience abnormal appetite and sleep patterns, frequent tension headaches, aching muscles, stomach aches and/or nausea, constipation, or constant fatigue.
Whereas the symptoms of the baby blues subside after a couple of weeks, the symptoms of PND can last a year or longer, often occurring (or being noticed) months after your baby’s birth.
The risk factors for postnatal depression are the same as those for mental health problems and include birth trauma which, in itself, often leads to post-traumatic stress disorders.
Similarly to postnatal depression, postnatal anxiety can present itself during pregnancy and up to a year after birth. The symptoms can include constant worry, feeling that something bad is going to happen, non-stop thinking, inability to stay still, appetite and sleep disturbances and physical symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, or hot flushes.
Anxiety disorders can trigger depression but, also, anxiety in itself can be a symptom of depression. It is therefore common for postnatal anxiety and depression to occur together.
This is a rare and extremely serious disorder, which requires immediate medical intervention to keep mother and baby safe from harm. It tends to begin suddenly, in the first few days or weeks after the birth and affects approximately 1 in 1000 women.
Symptoms can include severe depression and/or manic behaviour, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts or actions, bizarre behaviour, paranoia, thoughts of harming or killing your baby, confusion, disorientation, and rapid mood swings.
If you experience any of the above, know that you are not alone. Lack of adequate support or treatment could have adverse consequences on your own mental health, as well as on your baby’s development and your relationship.
Consult your midwife, GP, or another healthcare professional as soon as you recognise any of these warning signs, as they will be able to point you in the direction of the support and guidance available to help you overcome any mental health difficulties you may face following the birth of your baby.
The sooner you seek assistance, the better. Confiding in your loved ones and seeking support from a medical professional early is essential, but there are also a range of charities you could turn to, which offer support with perinatal mental health.
For instance, the PANDAS Foundation provides a safe community that offers hope and empathy to parents affected by perinatal mental illness, as well as offering knowledge and guidance from trained professionals with experience in the health care industry.
Remember that your mental health is just as important as your physical health so don’t neglect it. Your journey of motherhood should be a happy one, getting ready to start an exciting new chapter of your life – so be open, talk to people and try not to shy away from finding help if or when you need it.
For more information about PANDAS visit Pandas Foundation.
The PANDAS Foundation helps to support and advise any parent and their networks who need support with perinatal mental illness. They inform and guide family members, carers, friends, and employers as to how they can support someone who is suffering.
PANDAS survives thanks to the hard work of their dedicated volunteer team and donations from the public.
If you are looking for further support, The PANDAS Foundation help to support and advise any parent and their networks who need support with perinatal mental illness.
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