What is Post Natal depression?

Have you recently had a baby? Are you struggling with feeling low and are often tearful or feel emotionally overwhelmed? You could be suffering from Post Natal Depression, something that affects one in every three new mums in the U.K. alone.

What is Post Natal Depression?

Post Natal Depression is the name given to the onset of depressive symptoms following the birth of a baby. Few people realise that Post Natal Depression can be diagnosed for up to a year after the birth. This is because it takes your body a year to recover from the enormous physical and emotional changes that pregnancy, childbirth and the breastfeeding months demand.

What are the signs of Post Natal Depression?

You may have some or all of these symptoms:

  • Being and feeling tearful, often crying several times during the day
  • Feeling withdrawn and very low
  • Being unable to sleep or going to sleep but waking up after a few hours
  • Having no interest in life and feeling extremely tired
  • Fear of either harming the baby or hating the baby
  • Being intensely over protective of the baby or having no interest in the baby
  • All of these symptoms can also be accompanied by high levels of anxiety

Those more at risk of suffering from Post Natal Depression are:

  • Unsupported mothers
  • If you have experienced the death of a close relative or friend in the year leading up to the birth
  • If you have a previous history of depression
  • If you have suffered from Post Natal Depression after the birth of a previous child
  • Those who have experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse in the past

What causes Post Natal Depression?

During pregnancy your body produces high levels of the hormone Progesterone, along with Oestrogen, which are responsible for maintaining a healthy pregnancy. After the birth these high levels are no longer required. Over the first three days following birth a large shift in hormone levels occurs as the body prepares to make milk for the new baby. Before the milk arrives your body produces Colostrum which contains a rich source of antibodies which help to protect your baby from illness during the first few months of life. By the third day you will begin to produce milk and your pregnancy hormones will have dropped to less than half that of the level they were just three days before. Day three is often called “baby blues” day. At this time you can often feel tearful, emotional and upset without knowing why. These feelings are in part as a result of your shifting hormone levels. Sometime baby blues can lead onto Post Natal Depression.

Other physical factors impacting on Post Natal Depression are low levels of zinc which can affect depressive feelings and low levels of serotonin a chemical produced in the brain which gives you the “feel good factor”. When you think of the incredible changes your body goes through during pregnancy and beyond it’s understandable that sometimes things can take time to balance out. However Post Natal Depression can also start several weeks or even months later due to a combination of other factors other than just your hormone levels.

Emotional causes of Post Natal Depression

There are very real emotional elements that can impact and add to the development of Post Natal Depression. Having a baby causes a lot of changes in your life, your close relationships, your views, your ideas and your expectations of yourself as a parent. All of these changes will impact on your sense of who you are and can sometimes be difficult to negotiate. Becoming a parent also stirs up your own experience of being a child. It is often at this time that difficult, traumatic or even abusive memories may surface for the first time. They can have a devastating effect on your belief in your ability to parent your child and can become barriers to building a good relationship with your baby, partner or parents. Emotional conflict is often compounded with the very real physical exhaustion of looking after a baby. It may be that you had a difficult delivery and feel emotionally traumatised by the experience. Or maybe your baby was premature or had problems after the birth. It could be that you are in the sad position of having lost a baby, either during the birth or shortly afterwards.

How can counselling help?

Counselling offers you a confidential space where you can focus on the difficulties you are experiencing. Through counselling you will be able to process the impact of becoming a parent, the impact on your relationships and the impact on your sense of who you are. You will also be able to process the possible trauma and difficulties you may have experienced from the birth or from your own past which are impacting on your ability to be a parent in the present. With the support and skills of your counsellor you will be helped to find new resources which could help you approach these issues in a different way and so facilitate a different relationship with others, with yourself and most importantly with your child.