Ask the experts

Post Natal Depression

Many mothers can feel very alone after giving birth - don't ignore the signs ; ask for help.

Following her own painful experience and recovery from the most severe form of post-natal depression, Elaine Hanzak advises mothers, health professionals and family support groups worldwide regarding principles of care for sufferers and approaches to treatment for post-natal depression. Elaine’s empathy and practical techniques have helped hundreds of women on the road to recovery. 

Q. I longed for my baby, but now I just can’t seem to bond with him.  I’m struggling to cope and am scared I don’t love him.

Many other mothers feel like this so you are not alone. Society expects us to be ecstatic and overwhelmed by huge maternal feelings and that we immediately become a mother. However, for some this can take time to develop so in the interim please do not feel ashamed, scared or guilty and try to appreciate that it is not your fault. By acknowledging that you have difficulty in bonding with your baby is a big step towards solving the problem, so well done! Initially talk to someone you trust and know will respect your feelings – this may be a midwife or health visitor, partner or friend. If people seem as though they are not sympathetic it will be because they do not understand, so try someone else who does. Having suffered from the most severe form of postnatal depression myself I am here to help, so please do feel free to contact me direct simply go to www.greatvine.com/elaine_hanzak You are not alone in feeling like this and it is more common than you think. Often sharing a problem can help to diminish it.

Build a support team of friends, family, neighbours – they will be pleased to be asked – then delegate the daily household chores to them so you are free to spend time on you and your baby. Remember that you do not have to be superwoman and try not to expect too much. These strategies should help you feel more on top of things.  However, do keep visitors to a minimum in the early days – you need to concentrate on being a Mum not a hostess! This will give you time to focus on your baby – spend time feeding him, playing with him. Baby massage can help and there may be a local group for this in your area – ask your health visitor or speak with one of Greatvine.com’s specialist in Baby Massage for some guidelines and dos and don’ts. Get to know your baby’s body and he will warm to your responses and vice versa. By giving yourself more time to spend together you should be able to attend to your baby’s needs and ensure they are comfortable, not too hot or cold, and amused – if they are settled and happy this will make you that way too.

Use your support team also to give you and your baby some time apart. You need to get plenty of sleep to help your body recover from pregnancy and birth and to cope with your new role. You also need ‘me time’ so there is no need to feel guilty about this. With support, time and patience you and your baby will bond – remember you are both learning to love each other, congratulate yourself on all the positive steps you will be making and the ‘longing’ you had will be rewarded magnificently.

Q. Since my baby was born four months ago I seem to be having relationship problems with the people who are close to me – I am horrible to them at times but can’t stop myself. What can we do?

Many studies show that those suffering from postnatal illnesses that have a strong support network and close relationships tend to recover quicker than those without. However, part of the illness affects your moods and personality in such a way that it is easy to alienate others, for example, being short-tempered, appearing to be stubborn and expecting everyone to read your mind! You are likely to put up many barriers to resist help such as feeling guilty, that you like things done a certain way, that you do not deserve help and you should be able to manage. Try to overcome these barriers and you will find by reaching out, others will only be too happy to help. Decide together what you need with regards to practical and emotional support and delegate the tasks. Try to keep calm using relaxation techniques, explain as clearly as you can what needs to be done and take a deep breath before you may be tempted to criticise anything which isn’t exactly as you wanted – remember there is more than one way to change a nappy! Always remember to thank them – and remember that one day you will be well enough to help them when they need it.

Close relationships such as with your partner and parents can be very strained. A depressive illness at any stage in life is often hard to understand but following the birth of a baby everyone’s expectations are high and postnatal depression shatters them for all concerned. One approach is to work as a team to help no-one feel isolated or alone, thus making matters worse. All of you need to get information and advice about the illness to increase understanding of it and accept it is not a personal vendetta! Communication is the key – expressing respective needs, listening and learning when the best time to approach things is. Avoiding blame and criticism and accepting you all need space and time to relax are also crucial. Pride often has to take a back seat in preference of the main focus upon helping the new mother to recover with as much support around her as possible for a speedier recovery.

Q. My baby is one and I still feel exhausted and depressed all the time – could this still be PND?

Strictly speaking the term ‘postnatal’ refers to the 12 months after childbirth. However, if the symptoms started during this period and have not been treated, that is the concern – the label is immaterial. What is important is to seek professional advice and to take steps to recovery. Please do not continue to suffer in silence and just hope you will feel better automatically. Depression is an illness, which can affect us at anytime, and methods of treatment are very similar.

The recommendations made elsewhere in these questions for support, rest, good diet, exercise, counselling and possibly medication are applicable in this instance too.

Q. I want another baby but suffered badly from PND with my first child.  Am I more likely to suffer from it the second time around?

Possibly, but it is not certain because every pregnancy is different and just because it happened with your first birth is not an automatic assumption it will happen again. There are ways to minimise the risk and give you more control and confidence that you will be well next time and you will have less fear and far more knowledge.

It is vital to get your support team in place and ensure that in the early days after giving birth all systems are in place to allow you maximum time for rest, for yourself and your baby. Even before you get pregnant reconnect with the health professionals and family and friends involved the first time and review what worked, what didn’t and what could have been better, e.g. medication, talking therapy. Recall the early signs from last time and warn everyone to look out for them and to respond accordingly thus meaning a faster recovery. Try to plan to give birth at a different time of year to make it ‘different’ from the first time. Have discussed and written plans in place for the birth and early days, for example, who will help to look after the first child? Avoid any major causes of stress, such as moving house. Ensure you keep physically well by eating properly, by taking gentle exercise. Plan for the worst but expect the best! Use your plans to feel reassured and in control, have the support structures ready, think positively and visualise the happy pregnancy and motherhood that can be yours.

For help with postnatal depression talk to a top expert now on 0906 199 4422.

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