According to the Perinatal Mental Health Project, one in three South African women will experience depression during or after childbirth. Postnatal depression usually begins within the first month after childbirth, but it can also start during pregnancy, or even for up to a year after giving birth. If untreated, postnatal depression can prevent healthy bonding between mothers and their babies, which is critical to the mental and emotional development of the child.
What is postnatal depression?
Having a baby is often a particularly stressful time for the whole family. The hormonal changes your body undergoes, as well as the physical discomfort from the birthing process, contribute to an emotional response that can feel overwhelming.
“As the body’s hormone levels return to pre-pregnancy levels, feelings of intense emotion and exhaustion are normal in the days after birth. Many women develop overwhelming feelings of sadness, detachment, irritation and fear after their baby is born,” says Dr Howard Manyonga, an obstetrician who heads up The Birthing Team.
The definition of postnatal depression is broad. Symptoms can range anywhere from feeling exhausted and disconnected from your baby to paranoia that someone else, or even worse, you yourself, might harm your baby.
“Around 80% of new moms experience feelings of sadness, tearfulness, feeling ‘down’, irritability and mood swings shortly after birth. This is considered normal as your body and lifestyle adjust to the new baby, and is called the ‘baby blues’. However, when these feelings persist for more than 3 to 4 weeks, a diagnosis of postnatal depression can be considered,” says counselling psychologist Tamryn Coats.
Symptoms to look out for
- Constant fatigue
- Lack of concentration and energy
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Loss of pleasure and interest
- Sleeping and eating difficulties
- Problems with bonding with your baby
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Thoughts of suicide and/or harming yourself
Treating postnatal depression
“A lot of moms go through the first year experiencing some or all of the above-mentioned symptoms, thinking it’s normal to feel this way,” says Tamryn.
Timeous treatment is extremely important. “PND is a very serious and concerning condition for both mom and baby. Research suggests that the first 1001 days of a baby’s development, from conception to approximately two years of age, are very important in laying the foundation for attachment and how they will relate to others later on. Their brain development is extremely rapid, establishing neural pathways at a rate of one million connections per second between birth and 18 months,” explains Tamryn.
It is vital for moms experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms to get support immediately so they can better facilitate the needs of their baby during this crucial period.
“Mothers with postnatal depression struggle to feel attached or bond with their babies, and on top of that they often end up feeling guilty for having those feelings or thoughts. Suffering from PND doesn’t mean you are a bad mother. It just means you need help from a professional or group support,” says Tamryn.
“Assessing a woman’s home environment and existing support networks is important for determining what treatment is best,” says Dr Manyonga.
Check-ups with healthcare providers in the days after birth, as well as at the six-week mark are key to ensure that both mom and baby are doing well. New moms are encouraged to speak about their moods and any concerns they have during these visits. Men too, can experience depression in the period after the birth of their child, which can take a toll on family relationships.
If you feel you may hurt yourself or your baby, call Akeso’s Psychiatric Intervention Unit on 0861 435 787. You can also visit www.akeso.co.za for more information.
More about The Birthing Team:
The Birthing Team, supported by healthcare management company PPO Serve, provides affordable private maternity care to women who are uninsured. Their all-inclusive fee covers all necessary scans, tests, medication and consultations, including hospital costs for the delivery, based on their allocated care plan. They are currently operational at Netcare Park Lane in Johannesburg, Netcare Femina in Pretoria, Netcare Pholoso in Polokwane and JMH City Hospital in Durban. For more information visit www.thebirthingteam.co.za.
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