Things worth knowing

Postnatal depression: who suffers from it, what is it, what can be done about it?

How many women suffer from it?
Experts agree that between 10-20% of all mothers suffer of postnatal depression. If a woman already suffered from depression before birth, the risk of suffering from depression after her child is born is higher.

What is postnatal depression?
Postnatal depression is a form of depression related to the birth of a child (mostly seen in the first 6 weeks after delivery). The depressive illness mostly lasts for weeks if not months. Women are often quite desparate feel unable to cope with their newborn. The most prominent symptomes are irritability, anxiety, lack of concentration, lack of motivation and sleep disturbance. Women also feel extremely guilty as they can not be the mother they would like to be. In extreme cases there is risk of suicide.

Who suffers from it?
The cause of postnatal depression is no doubt a combination of hormonal, social and psychological factors. Women who become postnatallly depressed may be socially disadvantaged, suffer deprivation or be in a difficult partner relationship. Women who experience a traumatic birth or who have a sick child are in danger of becoming postnatally depressed. Some mothers are perfectionists and have always planned their lives, with a newborn, women have to adapt and learn to be flexible. A balance should be found between the needs of the child and the mother – this often takes some time. Irrespective of how well women prepare for the birth and how much they look forward to becoming a mother, there is no guarantee that they will not become postnatally ill. Getting postnatal depression does not mean the pregnancy was not wanted.

However it is sensible to give some thought to who will be there after the birth to support at an emotional and a practical level. Many women think that as soon as they are mothers, they have to concentrate all their energies on their child and neglect their own needs. The baby should have priority, but not all the time. Mothers have to assure that their batteries are recharged regularly.

What can one do about it?
When women realise they have been feeling down and depressed for a while and can’t manage to make themselves feel better, they should confide in someone – their partner, a relative, doctor or midwife. Sometimes just talking helps. In more serious cases professional help such as psychotherapeutic support or antidepressants may be needed. It is important to act quickly, as not only mothers suffer, but also the babies’ have an environment which is not as sensitive and supportive as it could be. Postnatal depression is an illness and not a sign of failure!

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