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5 tips for mothers with low mood and depression in the postnatal period

Dr Natasha Bijlani, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton, provides five tips for recognising and dealing with the early signs of postnatal depression.

1. Identification

All women are at their most vulnerable for mood disorder during pregnancy and particularly postnatally. As many as 70% or 80% of women are likely to experience 'baby blues', which manifests as mild (and usually self-limiting) low mood with anxiety, tearfulness and low confidence. Postnatal depression affects approximately 10% of women following the birth of a baby and usually begins in the first six months after childbirth, although for some women, the depressed mood can begin during pregnancy. Women who experience the 'baby blues' might need some psychological and practical support and reassurance for a short period but those with more pronounced symptoms will need professional management. Early diagnosis and treatment of postnatal depression results in a faster recovery.

2. Seek help

Do not feel ashamed or embarrassed about asking for help, if you do not feel at your optimum mood following childbirth. Try to discuss your feelings with your health visitor or GP, who will be able to assess you and offer the most suitable management options. Treatments for postnatal depression can vary depending on individual circumstances and intensity of symptoms and in some cases, may just require 'talking treatment' of varying intensity. Postnatal depression may require the prescribing of antidepressant medication and the use of these drugs has a sound and rational evidence base. Contrary to some lay opinion, they are not addictive and can be effective in improving mood. Some antidepressants are considered to be relatively safe in breastfeeding.

3. Try to be realistic

Childbirth is a significant life event and the majority of women have a strong desire to be the best mother they can possibly be. However, it is crucial to identify the difference between aspiring to be perfect, from expecting to be perfect. Motherhood can seem a daunting role to adjust to and it is helpful to try and cultivate a balanced image of motherhood which includes both negative and positive aspects. Consider the different elements and skills that would be required to perform the role effectively, if one were to write a job plan for the role of a mother. In the workforce, no-one would be expected to work non-stop, without adequate and regular breaks and yet many mothers of babies seem to do just that.

4. Don’t be a superhero

Most women are not very good at accepting offers of help, but in reality, a woman with a young baby is probably the most likely to need help, yet the most likely to turn it down. This attitude is probably fine if you are functioning at your normal capacity, but if you should become clinically depressed postnatally, everything will seem so much harder. Try not to feel embarrassed about asking for help. Consider people you feel you can rely on. Don’t assume that those closest to you, which may include your partner, your mother or your best friend, will know instinctively what your needs are, unless you express them.

5. Don’t neglect your own needs

Most new mothers feel they are in second place to their babies. Please remember that your physical and emotional health will affect your ability to care for your infant. Make sure you try to identify, prioritise and address your own needs. Basic functions such as maximising sleep, eating as healthily as possible and trying to get some exercise can be enormously beneficial in breaking the monotony of mothering. 

Recovery from a condition like postnatal depression will not be instant. Getting better will take time, and require effort and input from professionals and family/friends. Be patient and kind to yourself and try and keep the channels of communication open with those around you.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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