The Baby Blues
After the birth of a baby about half of all mothers suffer a period of mild depression called the blues. This may last for a few hours or, at most, for a few days and then it fades.
If the blues continue and seem to be getting worse then the mother should discuss the problem with her doctor.
A mother with the blues may suffer from any or all of these symptoms:
- Feeling very emotional and upset
- Crying for no particular reason
- A feeling that it is impossible to cheer up
- Anxiety and tension
- Worrying a great deal over minor problems
- Tiredness and lethargy
- Difficulty sleeping
The blues may have several causes, some biological and some emotional.
When a baby is born there are very sudden changes in the mother's hormone levels. Some hormones required during pregnancy drop rapidly while others, such as those which start the production of milk, rise. The rapid changes may trigger the blues.
Many mothers are unprepared for the extreme weariness which often follows birth. The weariness is usually due to a combination of factors. Mothers may have been anticipating the birth with some apprehension and this, as well as the physical exertion of the birth itself, can make mothers feel exhausted.
Rest and quiet are most important after a birth. Few mothers get either, as they are busy responding to the needs of the baby, or when they might be able to rest, they are disturbed by hospital or home routines or by visitors who may stay too long.
Babies may have a slight health problem, such as jaundice or feeding difficulties, in the early days. These problems are very common with new babies, but they cause mothers great anxiety.
How to help a mother with the blues
Mothers who have the blues should be allowed to cry and express their fluctuating emotions. They should not be told to pull themselves together.
It can be a great help to the mother if someone listens to her and reassures her that her worries and misery will not last and that she will soon feel better.
A mother who has the blues must have as much rest as possible. It may also help the mother if she is told that the blues are very common and that they will usually pass quickly.
Mothers with the blues are often over sensitive about what is said to them by relatives and medical staff so tact and empathy are important.
Post Natal Depression
Post natal depression affects one in 10 mothers who have recently given birth. The depression often starts after the mother has left hospital and been discharged by the midwife.
A depressed mother may suffer from any or all of these symptoms:
- A feeling of not coping with the demands of the baby and the home
- Frequent crying
- Anxiety and fearfulness about their own health and the baby's
- Panic attacks
- Tension and irritability
- Tiredness and lack of energy
- Inability to concentrate and finding even simple tasks confusing and too tiring
- Difficulty sleeping
- Poor appetite
- Pains for which there is no cause (other than tension and anxiety)
- Loss of interest in sex
What to do if you have post natal depression
If your depression lasts longer than a few days you should discuss your feelings with your doctor. If possible, take your partner or a friend or relative with you. Before you see the doctor, write a list of all your symptoms.
You should not go on suffering depression in the hope that it will go away. Post natal depression is a real illness and it can be treated successfully with anti-depressant drugs. These drugs are not addictive. They make the unpleasant symptoms fade until they go completely.
It is important to remember that all mothers recover from post natal depression. As the recovery proceeds, the bad days get fewer and less upsetting and the good days become more frequent. Gradually the bad days disappear completely.
After you have seen the doctor, you may find it helpful to talk to an understanding and sympathetic member of your family or a friend.
Your midwife, district nurse and health visitor can also give you advice, reassurance support.
Some mothers find it helpful to talk to someone who has had post natal depression and recovered. The Association for Post Natal Illness at http://apni.org/ can give you further information and help you apply for a supporter who had has the illness.
The National Childbirth Trust at www.nctpregnancyandbabycare.com can also offer support.
Although it may be very difficult to rest when you have a demanding baby and perhaps other children to care for, it does help to rest as much as possible if you are suffering from depression. You will find you feel worse if you are over tired.
Ask your partner or friend to care for the baby whilst you have a proper rest, preferably in the middle of the day. Try to lie on your bed even if you do not sleep. A rest in the day often improves sleeping at night for those with sleeping difficulties.
Try to eat a small meal or have a hot, sweet drink at regular intervals. Many depressed mothers forget to eat and this can make the depression symptoms feel worse.