Feeling like you would like to tap out for a little while after giving birth? Today we talk baby blues, post-natal depression and anxiety.
Growing a tiny human is pretty magical. Tiny cells divide and create an entirely new person.
There are many parts of becoming a mother that can make you feel wondrous and grateful. And well, a few parts can be more of a struggle. It can overshadow nearly everything else in your life, and many grieve the loss of parts of their lives, careers, or identities.
The term 'postnatal depression' is more familiar to most people than it would've been to people even half a century ago.
Despite more people knowing the term - do you really know what it is? Some of the most common questions we see are what are the symptoms of post-natal depression and anxiety? or what is post-natal depression exactly? And for those who are in the thick of it, we're often asked how long does post-natal depression last?
Maybe the most important question: how can you access post-natal depression support?
Just like the hand-me-down box of baby clothes, the first step in getting the help and support you need is in knowing what to chuck out (spoiler alert: comparisons and perfect mama myths) and what to keep (a healthy dose of support, and some developmentally-appropriate expectations)!
Something really tricky is separating out the everyday struggles from when things are actually becoming too much to handle. And when it's the latter, there is so much strength in reaching out when you need extra help (all the while dealing with a relentless pile of laundry).
Many women just don't realise the symptoms they are experiencing are actually postnatal depression or anxiety symptoms.
They just feel a bit numb, a bit 'off', or disconnected. Or perhaps they blame themselves with phrases like "I must be a terrible mum", or "I'm just not cut out for this". Or some might try to shrug off their feelings, thinking well this must be how every new parent feels - constantly low. No, they don't - and you don't have to either.
It's not just in your head!
There are some really important things to consider before we dive into the details.
While we advocate for taking care of your mental health til the cows come home, it's important to acknowledge the uphill battle if you lack a proper support network.
Birth trauma, health issues, a rocky or abusive relationship, financial hardship, job or housing instability are not things that someone can just ignore on their path to wellbeing.
Finding the right people to help with an issue is key - whether that's help around the house from a friend, a government social support service, or an online therapist.
Know that you're not alone in your struggles.
It's incredibly hard to discuss the feeling of mentally 'drowning' if you simply don't have the help you need. Reach out to those around you: grandparents, a babysitter, close friends, community support - or a trusted and qualified psychologist. Keep advocating for yourself and your baby until you get the help you need and deserve.
Do labels really help anyone?
If it's a label for the sake of a label, then no. But would you really trust a pharmacist giving you a rash cream for your cough? Knowing the difference between experiences and conditions can really allow you to get the proper help you deserve.
Women with pre-existing mental health conditions, or who are in abusive relationships, are more likely to suffer from post-natal mental health issues. Knowing yourself, as well as when to ask for support, is key.
Ah, if only it were just cute bubs playing saxophone solos. No, it's a different kind of baby blues.
These blues are something most new mums will go through in the days following birth. There is a dramatic drop in pregnancy hormones around days 2-5 post-birth. It makes perfect sense for the body to be quickly adapting to not growing a baby anymore.
But the thing about hormones is their wide-ranging ability to influence not just our bodily functions - but our entire experience. They can greatly intensify feelings and make it feel like you're on an emotional rollercoaster. It can make you burst into tears over something that seems tiny.
More often than not, women will feel better after a few intense days of highs and lows.
Like the post-birth blues, post-natal depression can make you feel like you have less control over tears, and emotions like sadness and anger.
But compared to the baby blues, one of the defining features of post-natal depression is that those feelings just don't seem to go away after a few days.
The main areas which you might notice are:
- Feeling numb
"I don't have any energy... or interest in anything anymore. I just feel disconnected"
- Feeling hopeless and deep sadness
"I feel helpless and low in confidence - I must be worthless", and "I can't help but cry at every little thing".
- Changes in appetite and sleep.
"I just can't eat, or I can't stop myself", and "Even when I get the opportunity to sleep, I just can't!" - or "I just want to sleep all the time".
- Anger and resentment
Getting angry is not an unreasonable response to negative situations. The difference is when these feelings are so intense that you can't escape their grip: "I feel like a volcano about to lose it".
- Difficulty with concentration and decisions
"I just can't think straight".
- More serious thoughts of harming oneself or others
"This is all just too much"
For some people, postpartum psychosis can also happen. This represents a disconnect from reality that others might notice, but the person themselves just feels incredibly distressed and distraught.
If you're struggling with more serious symptoms, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) on 1300 726 306, or emergency assistance on 000.
Plenty of creatures may be born with the ability to learn to walk within minutes, forage for food, or find their way to their nest. Human babies? Not so much.
Their one shot at survival is you. So they cling to you, they cry - they frantically search for you when you're gone. Keeping a tiny human alive is no small feat.
A very tricky problem is the balance between thinking about keeping your baby safe, and non-stop worrying that consumes you. And the key word there is balance right? Because your new-parent-worry is in fact an incredibly useful thing!
Realistically, the world can pose many risks to an infant or toddler (who have no skills of self-preservation!). It stands to reason that having to be wary of danger can feel a little all-consuming. Assessing potential dangers is a literal life-saver in this context
That said, sometimes brains can get 'stuck on a loop' with some obtrusive thoughts. What makes a thought an obtrusive one? Worries that don't seem to stay contained to the context.
An example is when itfeels like it can never be resolved or let go of - such as if you're worried you haven't turned the stove off, but after reassuring yourself - or perhaps even going to physically check, you still can't let go of the worry. Those 'sticky' thoughts and worries can often benefit from some targeted treatments and exercises.
Sometimes it can be hard to objectively judge whether your feelings of care and worry for your child are normal and helpful, or whether they're actually outstaying their usefulness - and overtaking your waking hours.
Having a chat with your psychologist or doctor can help you if you're not quite sure if what you're feeling is healthy.
It takes a flicker of courage to reach out for help
You might hear people sadly say that the 'village' to raise our children is nonexistent these days. The reality? Your village might just look very different to that of your great-grandmother's.
Our advice is to give up on the idea of 'going it alone' and struggling through. Access the list of your local support services from your healthcare provider.
Seek out other new parents in your area that you haven't met yet.
Reach out to those around you; family and friends. Join online communities.
Know that therapy is only ever a call away, and take hope in the fact that asking for help doesn't mean you're 'not good enough' - it means you're advocating for yourself and your child's wellbeing in one of the most profound ways.