BRINGING BABY HOME
You’ve made it home with your baby and brought them into your world. You expect to feel joy, excitement and elation, but you may be experiencing feelings of grief, loss and sadness. The world that was just the two of you, a place that both of you respected and worked together to live in, has changed. Now, there is a third person who over-runs boundaries, challenges expectations, dominates your world and relationship, and pushes many buttons including:
BRINGING BABY HOME
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Post-natal depression (PND) is a condition that affects one in seven new mothers and one in ten new fathers. You may be suffering from depression if you have experienced at least two weeks of a low mood for the better part of every day, and/or a loss of pleasure or interest in almost all activities every day. Some of the symptoms you may be experiencing are low self-esteem, lack of confidence, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, changes in appetite or weight, difficulty in sleeping – either over-sleepiness or insomnia – restlessness or agitation or conversely a lack of energy, an inability to concentrate or indecisiveness. It’s possible that you may even have thoughts of death, suicide or harming the baby. Your symptoms may be severe enough to interfere with your ability to function in daily life, and you may be feeling that life is meaningless and no fun, far from the happy, joyful experience having a baby was meant to be.
Many people talk about the ‘baby blues’, and it is important to note that these are very different from post-natal depression. Baby blues affect 60–70% of women and are a common response to the huge, life-changing event of having a baby. The term refers to a brief period that usually begins three to five days after giving birth and generally resolves in a week or two. (Unlike this, post-natal depression lasts longer than two weeks.) You may experience feelings of fearfulness and anxiety as well as mood swings, where one minute you’re happy and the next minute emotional, exhausted, overwhelmed and stressed. Baby blues shouldn’t affect your ability to care for your baby and usually no special treatment is needed unless your symptoms are severe. Getting the right support is vital for yourself and your relationship with your partner.
Dads, take note: not only does post-natal depression last longer and interfere with a mother’s ability to cope with everyday life, it can also have a significant impact on you during this time, as you are experiencing your own anxiety and depression independent of the way your partner is feeling. The focus is now on your partner and new baby, so you may be feeling as if you have lost your wife, lover and confidante and are now completely out of place and alone. You had hoped that the baby was not going to change your relationship to such a degree, and you may be feeling irritated and confused that you and your partner can’t just pick up where you left things before. Other issues may have arisen, such as an unplanned pregnancy, unmet expectations and problems related to the labour and birth where things didn’t unfold as anticipated. As a result, you may have been feeling traumatised, overlooked and even excluded during and after the birth. Unfortunately, change is inevitable and is accompanied by a lot of stress, anxiety and possible depression.
Like your partner, you may be sleep-deprived as you try to stagger your way through the day, while you experience a sense of being overwhelmed by your responsibilities, both emotional and financial (especially if you are the family’s sole provider). You also may be experiencing irritability, anger, resentment, anxiety, changes in appetite and loss of enjoyment of life; you may be feeling disconnected and even isolated from your friends, family and partner, and using work as an excuse for lack of connectedness, and you may even start engaging in risk-taking behaviour including using alcohol or drugs to help ease these symptoms.
Unrecognised depression and anxiety can lead to serious relationship dysfunction. If either of you feels you may be suffering post-natal depression, you need to know that early intervention and emotional support do help to speed up the recovery process reasonably quickly so you can restore to good health and start enjoying life, your baby and your relationship. Let’s talk before it breaks.