From the moment a woman starts anticipating her delivery date, she desires to cuddle her bundle of joy in her arms. It is a natural accompaniment of motherhood to harbour feelings of unmatched love and thankfulness from the moment you hold your little wonder.

A blend of joy, love and surprise overcomes you as you step into parenthood.  In fact, nature instils you with hormones for a short period after you give birth that help with the intense bonding  you feel for your child. For some, however, this harmonious motherhood might tilt.

As a new mother, your life can undergo the biggest social, emotional and physical upheaval you have ever experienced. It’s fairly common to feel irritable, angry or fiercely protective when you have to shoulder this bundle of responsibility that comes with your little angel.

But if you experience a persistent low mood and energy along with a withdrawal from routine activities, it becomes imperative that you consult your G.P. who can check you for postnatal depression.

Baby blues vs. post partum depression

At one end of the spectrum, within the first week of birth, around 80% of Australian women will experience a condition commonly known as baby blues. This is a period of over sensitivity where you may feel an incredible change overcoming your life and as a result you experience a variety of reactions.

An uncontrollable desire to cry, irritability, low energy and a decreased self-confidence only result in complicating the outburst of complex feelings. This is a transient condition and will pass when provided emotional support and watchful care.

This is a completely normal phenomenon but if these symptoms are prolonged over two weeks, your doctor will assist you to rule out post natal depression which resides at the other extreme of the mood changes.

15% of Australia’s child bearing women are plagued with post natal depression and around 25,000 to 50,000 cases are recognised each year. Some females experience a milder episode and hence never end up reporting about the condition.

What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is a term used to refer to the months of clinically documented depression following childbirth, and it can be present anytime during the first year following birth.

It may have a gradual onset and increase in intensity if left untreated. Some females have even reported of complaining of a repeated episode upon the subsequent pregnancy. It is often diagnosed when symptoms of depression persist for over a period of two weeks after the birth of your child.

Symptoms of postnatal depression

It becomes a matter of great sorrow in itself when a mother fails to feel the natural joy on meeting her new born. It also affects the nurturing of the baby as the early years demand vigilant attention.

The process of postpartum depression becomes a great impediment during the upbringing of your child. Therefore it’s essential to recognise the symptoms that may indicate this condition. Any four or more of the following symptoms for a period of two weeks present most of the time should raise suspicion:

  • Low mood especially upon waking up
  • Lack of interest in routine activities and lack of enjoyment in pleasurable activities
  • Lack of motivation to perform any task
  • Feeling tearful and harbouring a desire to cry all the time
  • Irritability without a justified reason
  • Feeling of guilt, low self-esteem and rejection and inadequacy as a mother
  • Lack of concentration level, forgetfulness and inability to formulate fixed decisions
  • Decreased energy level, fatigue and exhaustion
  • Fearful of and for the baby
  • Fearing loneliness or social interactions
  • Decreased appetite and disturbed sleep
  • Neglecting personal care and hygiene
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

At the extreme end of the condition mothers have been reported of harbouring suicidal thought and ideas. Some even prove to be capable of infanticide while secretly brooding a feeling of disgust towards the newborn. Although half the women with this condition are having such thoughts, in reality they are executed very rarely.

What causes postnatal depression?

Although there is no proven cause documented as yet, it is believed that the main cause stems from the experience of stressful events after childbirth. These include a feeling of isolation and worries over handling the incredible responsibility. Other factors that act as triggers or may predispose to postnatal depression are as follows:

  • Previous history of mental health problems or treatments (depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder etc.)
  • Family history of postnatal or clinical depression
  • Problems in marital relationships or single parenthood
  • Social isolation from family and friends
  • Financial problems
  • Ill health following birth (anaemia, incontinence etc.)

How to treat Postnatal depression

Having untreated postnatal depression can have grave consequences on your personal and family life. Therefore it becomes imperative to seek help at the earliest possible indication of the condition.

There are several approaches for treatment catered to your personal needs and the severity of symptoms. Counselling and support therapy works wonders for women exhibiting milder symptoms while those with a more aggravated condition may require a combination of anti-depressant medication and psychotherapy to obtain relief.

It should always be kept in mind that postnatal depression is entirely curable and your health practitioner can guide you about the treatment approach that is best suited for you.

Common misconceptions that the condition is caused by hormonal changes post pregnancy or that it runs a self-limited course if left untreated, do stand true for baby blues but post natal depression is an entirely different story. It is a more serious situation will requires keen medical attention to avoid hurdles on the path of healthy personal and social relationships following the arrival of the new baby.

Are you or someone you know suffering from postnatal or postpartum depression? Australia Counselling links you with professional counsellors throughout Australia in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra and regional interstate areas. Visit our depression page to search for a counsellor, psychologist, therapist or social worker near you.