I developed postnatal depression (PND) following the birth of my second child, Noah, and it took me a long time to recognise my symptoms and seek help. When I did seek help, I found myself frustrated with the lack of good quality maternal mental healthcare in my area. Despite this, I did get back to my normal self within around 18 months, and I am now a volunteer counsellor for the Association for Postnatal Illness.
Around 10-15% of mothers develop PND, as do almost the same number of partners and fathers. Breastfeeding reduces your chances of developing PND. It is an incredibly difficult illness to face, but thankfully it is treatable and the vast majority of people make a full recovery.
Most women experience feelings of sadness and irritability in the first couple of weeks following the birth of their baby. This is known as the ‘baby blues’ and generally passes after two weeks. If your symptoms last longer than this or start later, you may be experiencing postnatal depression.
The image above lists some of the common symptoms of postnatal depression. If you notice these symptoms in yourself or someone close to you, speak to your GP or Health Visitor. Other support resorces can be found at the bottom of this page. It can be scary reaching out for help, but doing so can help you recover quicker, and it can be life saving.
Postpartum Psychosis is a rare and severe postnatal illness, affecting about 1 in 1000 women, and should be treated as a medical emergency. Symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis include:
- Delusions- thoughts and beliefs which are untrue
- Mania- racing thoughts and feeling ‘on top of the world’
- Loss of inhibitions
- Behaving out of character
If you think you, or someone you know, may be displaying symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis, see a GP immediately or call 111 for advice. If someone is in imminent danger, dial 999.
My partner and I struggled with secondary infertility and in the end conceived our son after 25 stressful months. From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I was very anxious about losing my baby, and this feeling persisted throughout my pregnancy. I did mention this to my midwife, but my concerns were not taken seriously. Our son, Noah, came into the world after a whirlwind hour long labour and I was immediately overwhelmed with love.
When Noah was 5 days old, he was admitted into hospital due to CMPA. It was around this time that I started to feel very anxious most of the time and very teary. We were discharged around 2 weeks later, but my symptoms didn’t improve. I put it down to exhaustion. Noah was feeding A LOT to make up for his initial weight loss, and I was expressing 12OZ of breastmilk a day to give him top ups. My partner was back at work so I was doing everything around the house and caring for our older child and new baby, and I probably wasn’t looking after myself as much as I should have.
My partner mentioned a few times that he thought I might be depressed, but I didn’t listen. I was very anxious most of the time with no obvious cause, and the slightest things would make me cry. I thought that PND was always characterised by feeling like you don’t love your baby. I felt an overwhelming love for my baby, so I didn’t believe I could have PND.
By the time Noah was 4 months old, my anxiety had spiralled out of control. I couldn’t leave the house, even the thought of walking into a shop made me panic. I didn’t want to see anyone, but I was also terrified of being alone. I had suddenly developed emetaphobia (an irrational and intense fear of vomit), which wasn’t particularly convenient considering my son had CMPA ad reflux! I constantly felt ill and completely lost my appetite. My weight dropped to 86lb. After spending a week laid on the sofa completely unable to do anything other than breastfeed, cry, and sleep, I decided to visit my GP.
The first Dr I saw told me ‘that’s odd, you don’t look depressed!’. He weighed me and decided to draw blood to check my thyroid function (which turned out to be fine). He informed me that there is no medication for anxiety he could prescribe whilst I am breastfeeding, and sent me home. I felt defeated and went back to laying on the sofa, shaking and sweating and feeling as though I was about to vomit, having daily panic attacks and feeling like a completely incompetent mother. My thoughts were constantly racing, I couldn’t find any enjoyment in anything, and I had begun to feel suicidal. A week later, my partner made me an emergency appointment with a different GP.
This GP diagnosed me with PND, reassured me that I would get better and talked me through all the different medications which are compatible with breastfeeding. She also fast tracked me through IAPTS (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy Service) to receive some therapy. Unfortunately there is very little in the way of maternal mental healthcare in my area. I opted to have Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which I did find helpful, but it wasn’t really enough. The next year was a bit of a blur. It was probably the hardest year of my life, but I don’t really remember much about it. I don’t remember my son’s first laugh, the first time he sat up, his first steps, or any of of his other ‘firsts’. I still get a knot of anxiety in my stomach when I look at his baby photos, and he was such a lovely baby! Every day was a struggle, my relationship was strained, and I became very isolated.
I battled daily with my thoughts and it was exhausting, but I pushed myself and tested my limits. I practiced mindfulness and started forcing myself to leave the house, and eventually I didn’t panic about it. I started doing the things I used to enjoy, like yoga and embroidery, and eventually I started to enjoy them again. By the time Noah was around a year old I had started to improve. I started to gain weight again, and felt happy more often than I felt depressed or anxious. By the time he was 18 months old it was like a fog had lifted and I was finally able to enjoy my life and my children. This past year has been one of the best of my life and I feel like a stronger person for having made it through PND.
Every woman’s experience with PND is different. There is no single treatment which is best for everyone. The three main types of treatment for PND are medication, psychological therapy, and self care. Most women find that using self help measures alongside the treatment recomended by their GP can be helpful. Below are some examples:
- Reach out. The Association for Postnatal Illness can offer you long term 1:1 support via phone or email with a mother who has been through postnatal illness. It’s completely free.
- Get out of the house
- Build support. Talk to your friends and family, attend mum groups if you’re able to, and find support online (some helpful links at the bottom of this page).
- Exercise releases endorphins and can help to lift your mood. I found yoga helpful as it was something I could do at home and in my own time.
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Journaling and self help books
- Accept help. Needing help with daily tasks does not mean that you are failing. It means that you are human. We all need help sometimes!
- Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be a perfect mother. Nobody has it all together all of the time.
- Remind yourself that you WILL get better. PND can feel like an endless black hole, but it’s not. With treatment and time, you will recover.
Association for Postnatal Illness:
0207 386 0868
0843 2898 401
The National Breastfeeding Helpline:
0300 330 0700