Up to 15 per cent of new mums experience depression (the percentages and reports vary). However, most mums might have found it hard to talk about what they feel. Some of them might have ignored the symptoms or just didn’t seek the help they needed. As a result, we’ll never know the actual number of cases (we only see the reported ones).
Among those reported cases, many of those mums tell something about losing interest in most things in life, including in activities they normally enjoy. Having consistently low energy levels is another sign and some affected mums go through huge changes in their eating and sleep patterns. They might find it hard to fall asleep or they fall asleep a lot more than usual.
Pregnancy and being a new mum can make women vulnerable to sadness and depression. With huge changes coming up, the uncertainties and the feeling of inadequacy, some mums tend to feel hopeless and helpless during pregnancy (which might continue even months after birth).
Perhaps this is normal if it only happens for one or a few days. There are good and bad days and maybe we just have to go through them. However, if this lasts for more than a week or two, it can harm both the mum and the baby (source: Harvard Health Publishing). After all, depression can make us neglect our physical health. We might smoke, drink excessive caffeine or alcohol, eat unhealthy foods or not enough of the healthy ones and lose a lot of sleep. This in turn can affect how the baby develops inside the womb. Also, after childbirth we might not be able to provide enough attention and proper care to our newborns. Even worse, our babies sense our moods and this can affect their early brain development (which serves as a foundation and affect their long-term development).
Our emotions affect our physical health more than we realise, and vice versa. When we always feel down, we might isolate ourselves and become irresponsible when it comes to our diet and sleep. It’s also true that when we have a poor diet and we lack sleep, this affects our moods and emotions. In this case, somehow we still have control and we can immediately seek help. However, it’s the opposite case with our babies who completely depend on us only. They’re totally helpless and their fates largely depend on how we handle ourselves.
There are times though that we blame ourselves for our weakness and this depression. However, this might have nothing to do with us or our attitude and actions. It might have resulted from a past physical or emotional abuse, a recent conflict or dispute, the loss of a loved one, hormonal changes or something to do with our medications and genetics. In other words, it might be something beyond our control which is why we need outside help.
Most likely we won’t be able to overcome depression by ourselves. Even with positive thinking and sheer will, the feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness might still persist. This can go on for weeks and significantly affect our mental and physical health. It’s important and urgent then to have someone help us process our thoughts and feelings. This way of expression and externalisation can help us think more clearly and experience a sense of relief. It’s true that sharing our thoughts and problems will show our weakness and we fear that people might judge us. However, this first step of talking about what we’re going through is crucial to finding strength and overcoming depression during these challenging times.
To show our weaknesses and find strength without people judging us (or reacting in anger or disappointment when we finally tell our problems), it’s important to talk with professionals first. It feels uncomfortable to open up to our partners or family. Many of us try to maintain that face of strength so that they won’t sense anything wrong. As a result, we try to ignore the signs and refuse to talk about what we’re going through. But sooner or later, others will notice because of our moods and how we handle ourselves.
Before things get worse, we can start with calling 1300 726 306 (here in Australia this is the Perinatal Anxiety & Depression helpline). We can also contact our general practitioner or obstetrician. We can then be pointed to the right direction on where to get specific help and which treatment options are available to us. The treatment could be through psychological therapy, antidepressants (there are safe options) or through a combination of both. Emotional support and practical help from family, friends and partner are also valuable. This treatment and support can be ongoing during pregnancy and after childbirth.
This is urgent because things might get worse and come to a point where the physical health of both the mum and the baby is affected. We may now stop blaming ourselves and start seeking help and support. We don’t have to do it all by ourselves because being a mum is extremely difficult. We need all the help we can get so that our babies will receive proper care and full attention from us.