When you think of Postnatal Depression, words such as fear, sadness, anxiety, guilt and overwhelming inadequacy come to mind. This debilitating and often frightening condition affects over 12,000* new mothers in Ireland every year, with 90% *of all new mothers experiencing some degree of the ‘postpartum blues’ in the proceeding days and weeks post birth. Experiencing simultaneously a hormonal, physical and emotional upheaval both prenatally and post natally, Postnatal Depression although quite a common disorder, is still shrouded in a blanket of shame and misunderstanding. Frequently presenting as a mixture of changing ‘low’ and ‘high’ moods or elation, PND may in fact be an indication of a more serious health problem, with various severities documented from little or no treatment to the 1 in 1,000 women who go on to experience Postpartum Psychosis.
Despite extensive and ongoing clinical research into PND the exact cause is yet to be identified and debate is rife amongst professionals as to what the contributory factors are. However recent research undertaken by the University of Cambridge, Queen Mary University of London, as well as an expert from the University of Seville in Spain which was published in the journal Maternal & Child Health, suggests that new mothers who breastfeed are less likely to suffer from PND (up to 50%)**, and expectant mothers who plan to breastfeed after they have given birth and find themselves unable to – are at the highest risk of developing the condition.
But what other factors play a vital and destructive role in the development of Postnatal Depression in the new mother? We take a look at the most common:
The Birth Experience:
A difficult or traumatic birth experience has been reported by women as a major contributory factor to their PND with the actual birth and the new mothers expectations failing to match up. Feelings of being ‘let-down’, or not being able to deliver naturally (medical reasons), or to carry out their birth plan may all foster feelings of Depression.
A small number of women who go on to develop PND have a temporary thyroid gland deficiency associated with their mood fluctuations. Medical research suggests that some women may be vulnerable to the reduction in sex hormones postnatally, however with no firm scientific evidence to back this theory, research is still underway into the effect of biological factors post birth.
Irrevocable changes to the new mother’s life and the reality of the hard work that a new baby brings has also been cited as contributing factors to many women’s PND. The constant demands of a crying infant to the feeding, bathing and putting baby to sleep can mean a significant loss of uninterrupted sleep for the mother and this for many women is emotionally and physically exhausting.The birth of a new baby can have a profound impact on relationships and a new lack of freedom can put the new mother under considerable strain. The adjustment for some women of seeing themselves as a mother can be quite frightening in both responsibility and reality.
The lack of family support or that of a life partner can prove a depression trigger for some women. A new mother is more likely to be susceptible to Postnatal Depression if she has recently experienced stressful, traumatic events, emotional upheaval, a bereavement or a serious illness in the family.
A previous medical history of depression, panic attacks or anxiety can be a significant factor to the development of Postnatal Depression.
The stereotypical Image of Motherhood.
Expectant mothers are bombarded with the image and the expectation of motherhood. New mothers should appear radiant, energetic, glowing, both her and her home perfectly pristine and all backed by a loving supportive partner. And that mothering is perceived as instinctive, not something to be learned, can weigh heavily on the new mothers mind. The reality for many women is very different, the guilt that she may feel that she is not coping or knowledgeable enough, can all lead to overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and failure. All of these negative emotions can feed the development of Postnatal Depression.
Recently Fiona Kennedy*** an Irish writer, blogger, mental health ambassador and mum of two from Connemara, documented her truly terrifying experience at the hands of Postnatal Depression in TheJournal.ie. A brave and honest account of the manifestation of her PND she describes it as an “all-consuming, instant, explosive rage. Terrifying, usually out of the blue, and extremely hard to handle”. She describes feelings of exhaustion, of being out of control, and intense feelings of inadequacy and a rage she struggled to quell. Fiona states that “thankfully she now has much more self control and hasn’t experienced that anger in a long time”. And she asks if she had recognized those extreme feelings of rage as a PND symptom would she have sought help sooner? PND is as individual as the women experiencing it, and Fiona’s message is that if you recognize yourself in any of this, please ask for help. Inhealth.ie recommends seeking support and medical advice if you feel you may be suffering from Postnatal Depression or if your pregnant and feel you may be vulnerable. There are many organisations available and please consult with your GP or care provider if necessary.
Postnatal Depression Ireland
Call the support line from Monday – Friday 9am-1pm. An answering service is available outside these hours. No: 021 4922083
Cuidiú Head Office (Carmichael House), North Brunswick St., Dublin 7
No: 01 8724501
Aware National Office
72 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2.
tel. 01 661 7211
fax. 01 661 7217
Tel: 01 8430930
**University of Cambridge, Queen Mary University of London, University of Seville Research 2014