New motherhood: I've just given birth; I feel sad and overwhelmed...

New motherhood: I've just given birth; I feel sad and overwhelmed...

Hormonal issues can lead to the mother feeling low and sad after the birth of the baby and can affect the whole family

White Swan Foundation

The perinatal period is the time immediately before and after birth. This period starts at 22 completed weeks of gestation and ends seven days after birth.

The perinatal period is a time of major adjustment for mothers and their families. The new parents face unique challenges but may be overwhelmed by these.

‘Blues’ - this is normal

This is not normal

Many new mothers experience ‘baby blues’ two to five days after giving birth. This period of emotional upheaval is normal and temporary, and its intensity varies from one mother to another. In cases of baby blues, the new mother usually recovers within 10 days.

When weepiness, irritability and other emotional distress persist beyond two weeks, this may be postpartum depression.

If you notice these persistent symptoms in yourself or your wife/daughter, seek professional help.

Important: Perinatal depression can adversely affect mothers, fathers and the new baby. Mother-infant bonding can be disrupted and infant attachment can be disturbed. Fathers can also experience depression in the postnatal period. This impacts the wellbeing of the whole family.

It is essential that the postnatal depression is treated. If the illness is not treated, more than half of new mothers remain ill six months later.

Postpartum period

This is the time beginning immediately after birth and extending for about six weeks after the birth of the baby. During the first week after delivery, psychological and hormonal factors affect a mother’s mood and emotions. Most mothers become emotional and experience depressed mood, crying spells, irritability, anxiety, appetite disturbance, headache and forgetfulness. These are symptoms of postpartum blues. It is temporary and the mother can recover completely within 10 days..

When these symptoms persist and become severe, it can lead to postpartum depression, a condition that is common and can be diabling.  Within six weeks of childbirth, mothers may become seriously depressed. If untreated, this illness may last for six months or more and can seriously affect the mother, child and family.

Some of the symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed, irritable, and constantly exhausted

  • Low self-esteem and doubts about parenting capabilities

  • Constantly worrying about the baby or lack of interest in taking care of the baby

  • Being unable to cope with the irregular routine at home. Not being able to sleep due to the baby’s erratic feeding time and sleeping patterns

  • Inability to rest even when the baby is sleeping

  • Inability to enjoy activities which were enjoyed prior to pregnancy or birth

  • Inability to concentrate, make decisions or get things done

  • Physical symptoms of anxiety, heart palpitations, constant headaches, sweaty hands

  • Feel out of control or hyperactive

  • No interest in spending time with family and friends

  • Persistent negative thoughts and hopelessness about self and future

  • Experiencing feelings of anger, grief, loss, tearfulness

  • Changes in appetite

  • Feeling oversensitive to comments from family and friends

  • Having thoughts of harming themselves or the baby

  • Having constant feelings of guilt, shame, intrusive thoughts or images that are distressing

Getting treatment for postpartum depression

Both psychological and pharmacological treatments have been shown to be effective in treating perinatal depression.

It is important to access help and treatment for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Psychological therapies including CBT and interpersonal therapy are valuable treatments in the perinatal period. Untreated illness prolongs the distress for the whole family.

Note: Women with severe depression or with bipolar disorder may need medication.

White Swan Foundation