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:: Postnatal Depression Awareness Week

November 21-28 is Postnatal Depression Awareness Week

Did you know that one in 7 new mothers is affected by Postnatal Depression?

Being a new parent is a mixture of joy, love, surprise, stress and disappointment, with new things to learn every day. Parenthood is demanding with lots of extra responsibilities.

Both women and men have to cope with major changes in how they see themselves and the way they relate to each other when they become parents. This is a lot for anyone to take on, especially if the pregnancy was unplanned, things didn’t go as expected, you adopted a baby, are parenting alone, or had fertility treatment to become pregnant.

Parenting can be an isolating and constant job, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the working conditions are difficult (no rostered days off, no sick leave, no holidays, no pay and no special status). Parenting involves both physical and emotional strains just when your resources are depleted by fatigue and broken sleep. Sometimes you don’t have enough energy left to look after yourself properly or to spend time with
your partner, family or friends. Caring for an infant is often truly a labour of love.

Lifestyle changes and new routines can occur depending on your baby's feeding, settling and sleeping patterns. Unfortunately each new baby doesn't come with it's own handbook!  We expect babies to be born instinctively knowing how to breastfeed, to be responsive to our attempts to comfort them, and to sleep for long periods of time, both day and night. The reality of parenting can be very different to this.  Some babies are just more difficult to manage than others and some parents have little experience or knowledge to assist them.

For many women, having a baby is the biggest physical, emotional and social upheaval they have ever experienced. Mothers can feel elated, delighted, incredibly tender and fiercely protective of their baby. But they might also feel angry, frightened, guilty, and no longer in control of their own lives. Little wonder mothers sometimes feel confused or inadequate after the birth.

Postnatal Depression is not the same as the Baby Blues. 

During the first week after the birth, up to 80% of mothers will experience the “baby blues”. This is usually a time of extra sensitivity and women can have bouts of crying, feel irritable or low, and lose confidence — especially between three and five days following the birth. These upsets are probably related to the hormonal changes of childbirth.

The symptoms normally disappear within a day or two and just need some understanding and support from partners or family and help with learning to be a mother. Some women are worried about their baby’s health and welfare, and wonder how they will cope at home. If the symptoms continue longer than two weeks, this may indicate the beginning of postnatal depression, so discuss this with your maternal and child health nurse or general practitioner.

Postnatal depression, also known as postpartum depression, is the name given to clinical depression that occurs in the months following childbirth. It’s the most common psychological complication of childbirth, and can arise at any time in the first year after your baby is born. It tends to develop gradually and may persist for some months. If left untreated, it may develop into a chronic depression or recur after a subsequent pregnancy.

A combination of physical, psychological and social factors contribute to postnatal depression.  Studies have shown that some factors are associated with an increased risk of developing postnatal depression. These include:

  • a personal history of depression;

  • depression during the current pregnancy;

  • difficulties in the relationship with your partner;

  • a lack of practical and emotional support; and

  • an accumulation of stressful life events.

Other factors that may be related to a higher risk of postnatal depression are:

  • a family history of psychological problems;

  • single parenthood;

  • having severe “baby blues”;

  • having a negative view of life;

  • labour and delivery complications for mother or baby;

  • your partner being depressed;

  • problems with the baby’s health (including prematurity); and

  • having a “difficult” baby (easily upset temperament or problems with feeding,

  • sleeping, settling behaviour).

Postnatal Depression affects all aspects of life and makes it difficult for people to go about their normal activities. Attitudes towards postnatal depression and the nature of the symptoms means that people may not seek help. However, getting help sooner rather than later may prevent the symptoms becoming worse and enable a faster recovery.

Treating postnatal depression

There are several treatment options for depression, including counselling, psychotherapy, group treatment, support strategies and medication. Each of these strategies has a place in an overall management plan. The best approach for you will depend on an assessment of your needs, the severity of your symptoms and the services available in your community.

Many treatments are used for depression, but most of them fall into two main groups:

antidepressant medications and psychological treatments. In addition, there are many other strategies that people can use to help manage their condition.

1. Antidepressant medications

People with moderate and severe depression often have lower levels of some of the chemicals found in the brain. These chemicals include serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. Prescription antidepressant medicines reduce the symptoms of depression by restoring the imbalance of these chemicals.

Prescription antidepressants fall into several groups, the most common of which are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and tricyclic antidepressants.

Many herbal and natural medicines have been used over the years for depression, but most have not undergone thorough testing. An exception is the herb St John’s wort, which may help with mild to moderate depression.

2. Psychological treatments

Some forms of counselling (known as psychological treatments or talking therapies) help people learn to think more positively, to have better relationships with others, and to cope better with the stresses in their lives. Changing people’s thinking and behaviour helps them to recover more quickly and helps to prevent their depression recurring.

While some GPs have training in psychological treatments, many do not. Therefore, psychological treatments often require a referral to a health professional who specialises in mental health conditions.

About 14% of women in Australia who deliver a baby will develop a clinically significant depressive disorder in the first 12 months after birth.

The great majority of women will start having symptoms within 3 months of delivery. However, a smaller percentage will first experience the symptoms some time later within that first year.

In addition, a further 12% will experience some symptoms of depressive disorder not enough to warrant a diagnosis of clinical depression but serious enough to have a significant impact on themselves and possibly their relationship with their baby and/or partner.

Therefore, around 1 in 4 women having a baby in Australia will experience the negative impact of a depressive disorder in the first 12 months after the birth of their baby.

Jessica Rowe is Beyond Blue's Patron of Postnatal Depression.  Find out more .....

Some useful websites

Websites provide general information only.  Always discuss any specific questions or concerns with your doctor or pharmacist.

If you require further information please visit your local GP or speak to one of our friendly staff to point you in the right direction.

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