So you’ve just had a new baby, but why aren’t you feeling as overjoyed as you had envisioned you would? Why are you feeling so upset, unloving, sad, anxious, moody, lonely, afraid, tense.. and such related feelings? Yet everyone around you is so excited -and obviously expecting you to equally be over the moon because of your new bundle of joy.
I spoke to Nairobi-based counseling psychologist Anita Awuor, who sheds more light on the issue of baby blues and postpartum depression (PPD).
MT: What are baby blues?
AA: Baby blues are to some extent a normal part of giving birth and last from a few days to several weeks. Typically baby blues, though not expected include mild depression and mood swings which are common in new mothers. The new mom expects to be basking in mummy bliss but instead of celebrating, she feels like crying. And instead of joy and excitement there is exhaustion, anxiety and feelings of weeping.
Baby blues are normal and generally disappear after two weeks and require no treatment. They are caused in part by the rapid changes in hormones within the body after giving birth. The feelings of happiness and sadness, general mood swings, loneliness, irritability, and crying spells come and go from the first hour of birth to three weeks later, and mother soon starts to feel better after some rest.
If these feelings last longer and get more intense instead of diminishing after 2 -3 weeks, then it may the start of postpartum depression and this is where help may be needed.
MT: Tell us more about Postpartum Depression (PPD).
AA: PPD is more serious and lasts longer. Unlike baby blues, it should not be ignored though it’s not always easy to distinguish between the two. At the beginning, baby blues and PPD are similar, with the symptoms including; mood swings, crying jags, sadness, insomnia and irritability. The difference is that PPD symptoms are more severe and last longer. PPD will set in soon after child birth and will gradually develop over a period of months.
MT: What are other symptoms of Postpartum Depression?
AA: They include:
- Lack of interest in baby ,
- Negative feelings toward baby
- Worrying about hurting baby
- Lack of concern for self
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Loss of pleasure
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
MT: What are the causes of PPD?
AA: Causes of PPD are not known, but can include: hormonal changes, physical changes and stress. And some of the risk factors are a previous history of depression, a history of severe PMS, medical complications for you or baby, relationship difficulties and lack of support from family and friends.
MT: What are the coping strategies for a new mom?
AA: The following are some self-care strategies:
- Rest as much as you can: sleep as the baby naps.
- Take good care of your body: gentle exercise, eat healthy, drink lots.
- Try to spend time outdoors.
- Ask for help.
- Talk with friends especially other new parents.
- Try to spend time alone with your partner.
- Don’t try to do too much.
- Try not to make major life changes during or just after the birth of the baby.
MT: How can other people surrounding the new mom help?
AA: They can:
- Listen when the mum needs to talk
- Help with cooking, shopping, and errands
- Help in caring for the baby
- Give you time alone each day to sleep, bathe, exercise, read etc
MT: When should a new mom seek help?
AA: She needs to seek help when the feelings do not appear to be diminishing. When she starts to feel as though she may harm herself or her baby. Remember that all children need a chance to a healthy mother, and all mothers deserve the chance to enjoy their life and children. So if you are feeling depressed during pregnancy and after the birth of the baby, don’t suffer alone. Seek help.
MT: Your final words of advice?
AA: New mum’s need time to adjust. With baby blues one will wake up one day and realize its ok and you can be a good mother. PPD though carries on and affects the life of the baby and those around you. In the case of suspected PPD, seek help, call a friend, talk about it – don’t keep it to yourself and suffer in silence. With each day the guilt that you may be a bad mother increases, you may feel embarrassed or ashamed, or guilty about being depressed, but there is no reason for you to suffer in silence.
Anita Awuor is a counseling psychologist who has over 5 years’ experience working with families and children.
Images courtesy: Dreamstime.com