If you want to avoid postnatal(also known as postpartum depression) you have to take positive action in the first place. Body and mind are, of course, inextricably interwoven. and a mother’s mental and emotional reactions will be different following the birth of a baby. Immediately after delivery, she will feel overjoyed, stimulated, excited-and probably very relieved! Within the next three or four days, however, she may experience post-natal depression, and feel acutely miserable. The slightest criticism will upset her and she will be liable to burst into tears for no apparent reason.
All these feelings are common reactions, and doctors recognize them for what they are – a relief from the tension and effort of delivery. In hospital the mother will have the support of the nursing staff and other mothers. On arrival home, however, there is often no-one around to talk to, except the baby! Insight into one’s own problems is half the battle won. As long as you are aware that the depression may persist even after you get home, you can do much to help yourself.
THE POSITIVE APPROACH
Contact your friends again as soon as you can, and make an effort to arrange a meeting -a coffee morning, for example. Your baby should sleep well after hisand breakfast. He will also sleep quite happily in his carry- in a friend’s house. In this way you will be picking up the threads of life again, and will have someone with whom you can share your joys and tribulations.
A little later on, perhaps, you could begin-or recommence-your favourite hobby, perhaps enrolling for an evening class in a subject that interests you. Evening classes are ideal because husbands can be available to ‘babysit’. This will widen your horizons and ease any sense of isolation.
Make an effort to go out with your partner at least once a fortnight to a theatre, cinema, meal or whatever interests you both. If you have no nearby relatives available for babysitting, make enquiries to see if there is a local group of mothers who are working a baby-sitting rota system. If there is nothing like this available in your locality, perhaps you could start one? Above all, when you do go out, relax and enjoy yourself. Leave a telephone number and then forget everyday tensions for a few hours.
For day-to-day management problems that you may have with your baby, do make full use of the help available from your health visitor, clinic or mother-and-baby club.
A patent source of worry to many new mothers is a lack of immediate overwhelming love for their babies. They have been led to expect that as soon as their baby is born they will instantly adore him or her. This does, indeed, happen in a small percentage of births, but more commonly the love emerges and grows gradually as you feed your baby and tend to his needs. Do not be afraid to admit that strong and immediate maternal feelings have passed you by. You are by no means alone in this, and the lack of ‘instant love’ does not mean that you will be anything other than a good mother.
DEALING WITH POSTNATAL DEPRESSION
Unfortunately, even with the best intentions to try to keepat bay, some women do become to a degree which needs expert help. It used to be thought that depression, following the birth of a baby, was a condition specific to pregnancy. Post partum depression is now considered to be the reaction of a vulnerable personality to the of pregnancy and delivery, followed by the responsibilities of a new baby.
Some degree of depression is probably present in every woman who has just had a baby. This ranges from the sensitive emotional reactions of the first few days to the deep depression of the mother who is urgently in need of medical help.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
If the depression continues, the sufferer feels continually tired with a persistent headache, and aches and pains all over the body. She becomes increasingly prone to feelings of inadequacy and tears and loses interest in her appearance, food and, eventually, even the care of her baby. A physical examination reveals nothing abnormal to account for her symptoms.
WHAT TO DO
If you feel everything is getting on top of you and that life is becoming hopelessly difficult, contact your health visitor or doctor. There are ways in which depressive illnesses can be tackled, but in addition to your immediate family, you will need the regular and frequent support of an understanding professional.
Insight into the problem
This is the biggest step along the road to recovery. When you understand what is happening and why, you will be better able to cope and to try to organize your mind along constructive lines. For example, take one small task at a time, give it your full attention, do it to the best of your ability, and congratulate yourself on the outcome. Bring order into your day by keeping a routine. A disciplined time-table, that must be adhered to, is invaluable for preventing thoughts from running round in circles about your own imagined inefficiency. There will be setbacks, but refuse to be discouraged. Each time you succeed, you will be one step nearer to recovery.
Check that your physical health is being properly attended to. Adequate rest periods with a good, nutritious diet and at least one part of the day devoted to taking your baby out in the fresh air-preferably in congenial company, will help. Your doctor, too, will want to be sure that you are not anaemic or lacking in nutrition.
It is obviously best to avoidwithout drugs. But if all these comparatively simple-but effective measures fail, your doctor will be able to prescribe anti-depressant drugs. These do not get to the root of the problem, but they can help to ease the problem during the worst few weeks. However impossible it may seem to you in the lowest trough of depression, the cure can be complete and permanent. Making the right efforts and accepting the right kind of help will enable you to enjoy your baby again, and the depression will seem like a bad dream.