“Some days I had to walk out of the room and leave Sarah to cry, in case I picked her up and threw her across the room.”
Candy was talking about her experience with Post Natal Depression which had lasted for six months after her baby was born.
“I found it difficult to bond with my baby. I felt guilty for not loving her enough and sometimes I’d just stand looking at her asleep in her cot and burst into tears. I thought I was going mad.”
The common myth is that Motherhood should be a magical experience for a woman, the ultimate celebration of life and love.
For some lucky mothers, it is.
Yet a study recently undertaken in Australia estimated that 20% of all new mothers, no matter how much they had looked forward to the birth of their baby, experienced some form of Post Natal Depression within the first year of birth.
How do you recognise PND?
PND shows itself in many ways besides a feeling of unhappiness and depression. You may experience panic attacks, mood swings, sleeplessness, loss of energy, hyperventilation, lack of libido, and in extreme cases, feelings of hatred towards your baby and thoughts of suicide.
These episodes, which can be mild or severe, might last a few days or weeks, or can stretch into months or even years of misery for you, your partner and your baby.
Many mothers accept some of these symptoms as part of the difficulties of motherhood and often it is your partner who realises there is something more seriously wrong.
Don’t confuse PND with the very common ‘baby blues’, a feeling of mild depression which coincides with your milk coming in, about the 3rd or 4th day, and very rarely last longer than a day or two.
At the other end of the scale is Puerperal Psychosis, fortunately a very rare condition suffered by only 2 in 1000 women. The symptoms, which usually start about a fortnight after giving birth, include severe depression which swings suddenly towards manic activity and uncontrolled behaviour: bursts of unreasonable laughter and unstoppable crying jags. This generally requires time in hospital and a long recovery period.
What causes PND?
* Sudden hormonal changes occur in your body after the birth of your baby.
* Emotional stress of adjusting to motherhood: insecurity and lack of confidence
* The reality of being a mother is a lot harder than your fantasy during the previous nine months.
* The birth of a baby signals the loss of freedom and the start of a long- term emotional, financial and physical commitment. This can be frightening.
Many mothers have to cope without the support of close families and feel isolated and helpless.
Ilse, an ambitious and career-orientated mother was sure she’d take motherhood in her stride and was almost ashamed to realise she couldn’t cope.
“At pre-natal classes they warned us about PND, “ said Ilse, “But when Greg was born, I just didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t cope. Yet I had the classic situation for depression – both our parents lived overseas so I had no support. We moved house twice in Greg’s first year, which I found terribly stressful. I was holding down a demanding job, Greg was at a crèche and often sick …we were always broke. And all the signs of PND were there but I didn’t want to see them: although I felt exhausted most of the time, I couldn’t sleep. Any little thing started me crying uncontrollably, even a loud noise. I couldn’t get organised to do simple things like shopping, or the laundry, everything just seemed impossibly difficult. I took extra vitamins but that didn’t help. When I took Greg to the doctor for his twelve month check-up, I burst into tears all over the poor man and he prescribed a three- month course of anti-depressants. Within a week I felt a different person.”
Talk to a professional
Usually that professional would be your family doctor. But if you feel he’s not taking you seriously, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion. Never be embarrassed to tell your doctor or clinic sister exactly what you are feeling. It’s important that you get help for PND, no matter how mild your symptoms may seem.
A simple blood test could reveal a deficiency in zinc, one of the major causes of PND.
At your first visit, you might be prescribed mild tranquillisers but if you’re still experiencing symptoms on your second visit, your doctor might then go on to prescribe a course of anti- depressants. Some woman are unwilling to use drugs, thinking that this is an admission of something seriously wrong. PND is serious and you need to carry on getting whatever help is available until you are your old self again.
Natural ways of dealing with mild PND
Ask your partner for a massage, using essential oils with helpful properties: jasmine ( uplifting) rose ( banishes feelings of sadness) and geranium ( eases anxiety )
Or use one of these oils in an oil burner.
Some of the better-known natural remedies which have been used down the ages are lavender ( recommended for it’s calming effect ) valerian ( taken for anxiety) and St Johns Wort ( a mild natural anti-depressant) Kava Kava is also used to treat symptoms of anxiety, and Dr Bach’s Flower Essences contain a range of extracts of Gentian, Gorse, Sweet Chestnut, Elm and Larch, which some people find help emotional states.
If you choose the homeopathic route, there are a wide range of remedies available.
“I would choose a combination of remedies to suit the individual needs of the patient,” said Cape Town homeopath Dr Julie Digby. “If, after talking to her I felt the problem was hormonal, not emotional, I’d probably recommend Pulsatilla, especially if she was constantly tearful, or Sepia if she felt unable to cope with life. Lachesis is another remedy I often use, but every women with PND has different needs.”
Tips for dealing with PND
1 Take the opportunity to sleep whenever your baby sleeps, even if this means the dishes don’t get done. Put your needs first: for the first few months, sleep is your No 1 priority. Don’t try to be Superwoman.
2 Avoid depressants like alcohol
3 Reduce feelings of irritability by cutting down on stimulants like coffee, tea and cola drinks.
4 Vitamin C complex strengthens your nervous system and helps fight fatigue.
Flax seed capsules containing essential fatty acids are an excellent supplement.
5 Keep up your blood- sugar level up with frequent snacks, but avoid too much actual sugar as this increases your blood sugar imbalance. Eat protein-rich foods.
Don’t accept that feeling miserable and unable to deal with life is part of having a baby. It’s not. You owe it to yourself and your family to get help.