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New mum - signs of Post Natal Depression

Conservative estimates say that one in seven women is affected by Post Natal Depression to some degree - here's what to watch our for

Posted: 29 August 2007
by Maria Muennich

With the physical and emotional turmoil a new baby can bring, it's very common for new mums to feel overwhelmed and at a low ebb emotionally while they find their feet. These '"baby blues" are usually fleeting and best handled with a bit of rest and support from family and friends. For some mums though, a low ebb can develop into full-fledged Post Natal Depression, or PND, an illness which needs to be treated as soon as possible. As recognising Post Natal Depression (PND) is the first step towards recovery, it's important that you and your partner are aware of what the signs of the illness are, particularly if you have a personal or family history of depression.

Useful contacts

The Association for Post Natal Illness
Tel: 020 7386 0868

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
Tel: 0870 443 5252

British Confederation of Psychotherapists (BCP)
Tel: 020 7267 3626

Post Natal Illness Organisation
Forum group formed by past sufferers of PND

Some of the symptoms for PND are very similar to those of the baby blues, but are more acute and last longer: While the baby blues will disappear of their own accord, usually within a few days, Post Natal Depression will take far longer to clear up without proper medical treatment.

  • Teariness / feeling blue - Nearly all new mums will feel weepy now and then, but PND usually involves feeling persistently sad, weepy or despondent - perhaps more acutely at certain times of day.

  • Numbness - Hand-in-hand with this despondency goes a general disinterest or inability to take enjoyment from life, and even from your new baby.

  • Crippling irritability - Women suffering from PND may be very moody and easily frustrated, experiencing sudden flashes of anger that make it more difficult for them to deal calmly with the everyday challenges of family life.

  • High anxiety - This testiness is often coupled with high anxiety levels: a depressed mum may be persistently tense and nervous and disposed to worry, often about their own health or the health of their family members.

  • Panic attacks - High levels of anxiety can cause panic attacks - when over the course of several minutes you feel that something really terrible is about to happen.

  • Feelings of inadequacy - When you're feeling blue, or a bit down, you may feel you're not doing a good enough job as a parent. A depressed mum, meanwhile, may feel completely incapable of being a good parent and feel that they are utterly worthless.

  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide - At their most severe, feelings of inferiority can prompt thoughts of self-harm and suicide. This is a clear indication that depression is severe and it's vital that anyone contemplating suicide get help as soon as possible.

  • Dependencies - Another sign that a mum is struggling with PND is if she turns to alcohol, food or drugs for comfort.

  • Extreme fatigue / insomnia - The constant worry that can come with depression may make it even more difficult to sleep than is usual for new parents. As a result, tiredness and physical exhaustion can be even more extreme than for other new mums.

  • Physical discomfort / illness - While aches and pains alone are very common for new mums, depression is physically draining and can cause or aggravate pains such as stomach, back and chestpains, dizziness, breathing problems and headaches .

  • Lethargy / Inability to manage even simple tasks - Combinations of these symptoms can be crippling to the degree that it's difficult to think clearly, concentrate, take decisions and then act upon them. If even small tasks and minor decisions are daunting it is a strong sign that you are depressed.

  • Lack of appetite - While some PND sufferers seek solace in food, others may find that they are very disinterested in food, which will exacerbate fatigue and lethargy.

  • Becoming withdrawn - With a list of symptoms such as these, it's no surprise that a depressed mum is likely to want to stay at home and shun company. This is doubly unfortunate as getting out and about and seeing friends and other mothers, as unpalatable as it may seem at the time, is one of the sources of support that any new mum needs, and particularly one struggling with depression.

Self-diagnosis with PND isn't necessarily easy, but it's much easier if you're aware before-hand of what these warning signs are. If you think that you might be at risk of developing PND, because you have a history of depression or dependency, a family history of depression or you had a difficult or traumatic pregnancy, then do make sure to pass this list of symptoms on to a close relative who can also be alert for them.

If you do think that you are suffering from PND then don't struggle on alone. Post Natal Depression is a treatable illness, not a weakness, and you stand a better chance of recovering more quickly if you seek medical help as soon as you can. You can read our article on how to cope with PND to find out more about making a speedy recovery.

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