NOT JUST THE BABY BLUES




Many women experience baby blues after giving birth, feeling miserable for a few weeks. 


Postnatal depression, however, is a much more serious condition that can affect women in various ways and needs treatment.

Twins – the first in the family!’ That was the jubilant reaction of Melodie Khumalo’s* family when she gave birth for the first time in 2016. It was meant to be the happiest time of her life, but Melodie found little to celebrate. She spent the first few months of her children’s lives trekking back and forth between home and the hospital where they had been born prematurely. And when they finally went home, all she wanted to do was cover her head with a blanket and forget they were there. She felt none of the joy and excitement she’d anticipated.

SNAP OUT OF IT?
Her family couldn’t understand it. ‘This is the happiest time of your life,’ they said. ‘Snap out of it!’ However, Melodie was suffering from postnatal depression (PND) – a debilitating condition that is estimated to affect between 15 and 20 percent of new mothers worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organisation. ‘Such comments are disrespectful and downplay the way the mother feels,’ says Dr Susanne Long, psychologist and counsellor at The Family Life Centre in Joburg. ‘Postnatal depression is a real condition that needs to be taken seriously.’

BABY BLUES VS PND
The birth of a child means a big psychological adjustment for the whole family, says Dr Long. And while the ‘baby blues’ (sadness, irritability, fatigue and fear of not coping) affect about 85 percent of all mothers, it is short-lived and gets better once the mother adjusts to the new phase of her life. When a woman stays chronically tired, doesn’t bond with her baby, has mood or behaviour changes and loses interest in people and events around her for a longer period, these could be signs of PND, for which there are numerous causes. An unplanned pregnancy, the stress of childbirth, hormonal changes, lack of social and financial support from the father, or the psychological and physical health of the mother could all be contributing factors.

WHEN TO ASK FOR HELP
In really severe cases new mothers sometimes develop postnatal psychosis. This only affects about one percent of mothers but it’s a very serious condition and needs to be treated immediately. In extreme cases there could be a danger of the mother causing harm to herself or her infant. ‘This disorder includes extreme mood swings, delusions, confusion, anxiety, hallucinations and being out of touch with reality,’ says Dr Long. ‘Fortunately, with the correct treatment the mother can recover and can enjoy her new lifestyle and her baby.’ Any mother experiencing the warning signs above should seek help immediately from her doctor.

HOW TO TREAT PND
Some or all of the following treatments might be helpful:

  • Psychotherapy and counselling provided by a mental-health professional. This frequently includes cognitive behavioural therapy that can help the mother think and feel more positively about her situation, creating a greater reserve of psychological coping resources. In severe cases, a psychiatrist can prescribe antidepressants (depending on her medical history, whether she’s breastfeeding or on any other medication). 
  • Going to support groups and connecting with other mothers in the same situation can be helpful. 
  • Couple or spousal therapy can allow both parents to devise ways of tackling the depression. 

HOW FAMILY CAN HELP
Partners and family should read up on the condition to understand it better. They can also chat to a healthcare professional for advice on how to offer support. Then they need to listen and give the mother space to express her feelings. Some people might feel that it’s ‘unnatural’ for a mother not to be overjoyed with her new baby, but it’s all too common and
she needs support and understanding, rather than criticism. Husbands or partners can help by sharing the responsibility of caring for the baby, giving her time to relax and catch up on much-needed sleep. (Dr Long advises couples to discuss how they’ll share responsibilities before the baby is born.) Even if she is breastfeeding, the mother can be given the chance to rest between feeds. The whole family (and friends) can devise a schedule to help by providing meals, shopping, bathing the baby, babysitting or helping with chores at home.

Husbands or partners should also be sensitive to the mother’s body changes and mood swings. In addition, she should be encouraged to follow a healthy lifestyle eating and sleeping well, and exercising regularly which will help to lift her mood. ‘She should also be encouraged to make contact with friends and not to isolate herself,’ says Dr Long. ‘There should be no shame in sharing her feelings or admitting that she needs help.’



Although unpleasant for the new mother and her partner, PND can be overcome. ‘Being aware of the possibility that it could happen, looking out for warning signs and offering a supportive environment can help new mothers address problems before they become too overwhelming,’ Dr Long adds.
*Not her real name

ASK AN EXPERT
Jet Club members have free access to Jet Club’s helplines. For support and advice on depression or baby care call:

Personal health advisor
SA & Namibia
0800 0045 45
Botswana, Lesotho & Swaziland
+2711 991 8258


NOT JUST THE BABY BLUES NOT JUST THE BABY BLUES Reviewed by Jet Club on July 04, 2019 Rating: 5

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