Prenatal and Postnatal Depression
- Are you struggling with being pregnant and concerned about your experience?
- Are you ready to seek support and feel better about where you are?
- Is your partner struggling with her pregnancy and it is affecting you?
Some Facts about Prenatal and Postnatal Depression
- Some women are at an increased risk of depression during pregnancy (known as the antenatal or prenatal period) and in the first year following childbirth (known as the postnatal period). The causes of depression at this time can be complex and are often the result of a combination of factors.
- The ‘baby blues’ occurs a few days after the birth, which many women experience as ‘feeling down’ and is a common condition related to hormonal changes, affecting up to 80 per cent of women.
- The ‘baby blues’ commonly occur around day 3 after childbirth, when there is a drop in the ‘feel-good’ hormones (endorphins) activated by the intense sensations of labour and birth. As they return to normal levels, (and just when a new mother could most use them ) she begins to experience the cumulative affects of early parenting, triggered by the reality of a new baby, interrupted sleep, and postnatal discomfort. Fortunately, baby blues is short-lived for about a few days. Women who are at risk of developing postnatal depression for the first time, or again with a new baby, will need appropriate medical attention and supportive treatment, such as counselling or support groups of like-minded mothers.
Who is more at risk?
Almost 10 per cent of women will experience depression during pregnancy. This increases to 16 per cent in the first three months after having a baby.
- Job stress or job change
- Change in living arrangements
- Pregnancy and giving birth
- Family and relationship problems
- Major emotional shock following a stressful or traumatic event
- Verbal, sexual, physical or emotional abuse or trauma
- Death or loss of a loved one.
Anxious – Women who have a tendency to be anxious are more likely to struggle with the changes of adapting to motherhood, which makes perfect sense, after going from a semi-controlled life to one that is seemingly chaotic and in a state of ongoing change, it’s not surprising that some women will fare worse off.
Perfectionist – Even though we expect change to happen, the reality of it can be hard to accept. If you are used to an orderly life, one that is organised around writing yourself notes in your head or on paper, being time-focussed, A + B = C, going from one task to another to achieve a particular goal – stop now – because life at home with a new baby is not like that!
Unpredictable – What might seem like a routine may not be one in three days time anymore. Each feed can be different from the first one or the day before. Who knows why? Babies are changeable little critters, and you need to have nerves of flexible steel to keep up with the myriad of little changes that are going on before your very eyes! Motherhood is unsettling in every which way you turn and there is nothing much you can do about that, except learn to tolerate the discomfort of change. Easier said than done. And that is the task at hand to help mothers who are potentially at risk of postnatal depression or who have it already, from worsening or repeating it for their next babies.
How poor attachment can develop and be passed on from baby to mother to new baby
Many women who have had troublesome childhoods vow to themselves that their babies will not experience what they did, in their desire to make a better life for their children. However, their intention, though well-meant can be poorly executed. The new parent, determined to be a loving and available parent, often becomes overly available to the point of suffocation for the new baby. The reason being, unless they have overcome their own shortcomings of a difficult attachment, on some spectrum of insecurity, it is unlikely that they will have escaped their own conditioning, and not pass it on.
Insecure attachment can be overcome, in the same manner that it was unwittingly taught or acquired, secure attachment can be learnt. It takes time, compassion for self and others and a readiness to learn new things, however difficult. Much like parenting really.
How do you learn more secure attachment?
The spectrum of secure and insecure mothering can often waver from one end of the spectrum to the other, as the new mother finds her way from being reactive to a more balanced approach of responsiveness. A responsive mother is one that has learnt what it feels like to be responded to from her own childhood upbringing and if that was less than ideal, then she learns it from others that are responsive to her in trusting and caring ways, such as teachers, family members, partners, mentors and the like.
A baby needs safety and love to feel secure
A secure baby is one that feels safe and trusts that their parents will take care of them, will be responsive to baby’s needs when it cries out, will know what to do to soothe baby and simply love them in the best way that they can. One of the best things that happens to new parents, is that they learn to feel their heart-strings open and expand with an extraordinary kind of love that they have not experienced before the birth of their child, and will do anything to match that experience of new explosive love by keeping their child safe at whatever cost. That expansiveness of new love will ignite the learning of how to be a responsive parent, even if that was not your story to begin with.
- A secure parent is one that can contain a situation
- A secure parent is one that can soothe their crying baby consistently
- A secure parent is one that trusts their own developing judgement about parenting their child
- A secure parent is one that recognises their own needs and will take steps to satisfy them or seek support to
- A secure parent learns to build community of others, family and friends to parent their child
Loss of a baby
Often there are cultural / religious issues around how a loss / death of a baby or an unexpected disabled baby is handled, which may further challenge the well-being and recovery of the parental relationship. Recovery is best shared, however that looks and takes place. Sharing the loss through touch, talking and supporting each other are vital elements of the grieving process.
Airing and sharing, is a positive approach when possible, and to stop deep grief taking an unhealthy foot-hold. Women as the primary caregivers, will blame themselves more than another. Grief has its own timetable. However, it’s important to monitor it not going into toxic mode.
If you need counselling support with your grief and deep sadness, please contact me
Men process grief differently
Men process their grief very differently from women, and will often use activities or busyness to distract themselves from their grief. They are grieving, albeit differently. They may prefer not to talk about it or give themselves a small window in the beginning and then close those feelings down after that. Women are more likely to ruminate over the loss and will want to share their thoughts, memories, what ifs?, more frequently and without a time-frame. This can create problems for both of them, uncomfortable with grieving their loss of not only their baby, but the impact of it on their future with each other.
Men often prefer the approach of ‘get over it, don’t talk about it too much, move on and get better.’ Male conditioning tends to encourage this approach. Seeking out a counsellor at this time, can help give you the support that you both need, either individually or together.
Loss of a baby – Women can hold onto a difficult or traumatic childbirth experience or a ‘lost’ baby for years, never really telling her story and never really letting it go either. Both are detrimental to a woman’s health and wellbeing, and impede her growth as a mother and woman in so many ways.
I always recall my own mother speaking about her two ‘lost babies’ (one stillborn and the other premature) and her pain, loss and anger still evident in her voice after many, many years. She blamed herself of course, but was particularly vicious about my father’s part, and no surprise that their relationship ruptured a few years later when there had been no reconciliation of her loss.
Pregnancy changes many things about a woman. It can make some things better and other things less so. If you are looking forward to your baby but have niggling anxieties that are clouding the pregnancy, seeking help early is an excellent supportive move for you and baby. Depression talked about earlier on can make a huge difference to the outcome of the birth and afterwards.
Claire is a Counsellor, Hypnotherapist and Childbirth Educator.
The Healing Practice
7 Albert St
Forest Lodge (Glebe)
By appointment only.