Having a baby is one of the biggest life changing experiences in someone’s life. Is it always only love? Is it as fantastic as everyone says it is?
A lot of mothers say it is the most beautiful thing they experienced in their life. After birth you probably get a lot of messages saying: “Enjoy this wonderful time together with your baby (and your partner)”. A few people may add something like: “And thinking of you in this hectic, tough and insecure period”.
That last message seems to be left behind by a lot of women when they talk about their newborn experience. It doesn’t mean you love your child any less by telling someone that it is also a tough period. Besides the overpowering feeling of love there can also be other feelings that you may not be prepared for.
If you feel this way this is not a shortcoming from you as a mother and you don’t have to feel guilty about your feelings. Having other emotions besides the love for your child is very normal. This is also called the baby blues and is experienced by 50-80% of all women. If the feelings of emotional instability continue, don’t get less over time and/or get more severe, it is good to check with a specialized health professional on weather this is developing in a postpartum depression (PPD), also called postnatal depression.
Postnatal depression is not always recognized, but 10-20% of the women develop this condition after birth. What people don’t know is that a postnatal depression can also develop after a miscarriage, the adoption of a child, an abortion and not only with the first pregnancy. Also men can experience a postnatal depression.
The onset of the symptoms: during pregnancy or few weeks or months after the life-changing event.
Some common symptoms of postnatal depression are:
Sleeping problems or excessive sleep, appetite changes, frustration/irritability, restlessness, feeling overwhelmed, hopelessness, anxious, lack of interest and pleasure, loss of energy, difficulty concentrating, withdrawing, feelings of guilt or shame or worthlessness, trouble bonding with baby, feeling inadequate, extreme tiredness, the inability to carry out everyday activities, thoughts of harming someone.
Causes and risk factors for developing a postnatal depression are a combination of biological, social and mental health factors. Examples of these risk factors are:
Hormonal changes, genetic predisposition for mental health diagnosis, previous depression, sleep deprivation.
High expectations of your environment, difficult pregnancy, high demands on yourself, difficulty setting boundaries and saying “no”, difficulty in expressing and sharing emotions, difficulty in asking and accepting help.
Traumatic or rough experiences in your past, unprocessed grief in the past, a traumatic delivery, premature deliveries, health issues of your child or yourself or a loved one, relationship/work/ financial problems, medical complications during delivery or pregnancy, miscarriage, abortion, loss of job/loved one, lack of social support system, inadequate nutrition, unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, immigration, temperament of the child.
What to do when you experience above symptoms:
Creating plenty of rest, finding fulfilment again, leave the to-do’s for the moment, have a well-balanced diet, exercise, find a social support network (you are not alone out there), ask for help, don’t be too harsh on yourself, set small realistic expectations towards yourself/ your baby and others, make time for yourself and your relationship, have bonding time with your baby, express your emotions, set your boundaries, set priorities, go outside and seek professional treatment.
There is a lot of guilt and shame around this subject. I hope this blog helps you to be less harsh on yourself, creates more awareness around this subject and helps people to consider asking (professional) help. It is easy treatable if you take that step to seek treatment. It is not a failure of you as a mother and hopefully this can be less of a taboo in the future. I personally think it shows great courage and a great mom to take that step towards treatment. By asking help you are kind to yourself, put your own blockages aside and set the need of your child as a priority.
At SACAC Counselling there are a lot of psychologists and counselors that are highly qualified in treating postnatal depression and adjustment to motherhood. Together we will see how the biological, social and psychological factors have influence on your feelings. We will work on the challenges of the transition to motherhood, how to deal with this identity change that you are going through and how to grief a part of you that you lost or has changed.
Counsellors at SACAC Counselling that treat postnatal depression are: Felicia Neo, Saveria Cristofari, Sanaa Lundgren, Vinti Mittal, Mahima Gupta, Nina Stevens and myself (Flo Westendorp).
For more practical information and contact information (clinics, websites, support groups, counseling services) in Singapore see the blog “Maximising Mental Health and Wellbeing Post Birth as an Expat” of my former colleague Dr. Rachel Upperton, link: https://www.sacac.sg/blog.html
Registered Clinical Psychologist