I have been mulling over how to tackle the topic of Postnatal depression for weeks, what seemed a straight forward request has raised my awareness to the fact that we seem to know what post natal depression is, but do we really understand it?
I think its fair to say every mother feels low at some point post birth. A minor injury of a stubbed toe prompts woes of discomfort, so surrendering your body to pregnancy to then have a tiny human removed vaginally or surgically, is going to have an impact both physically and emotionally.
To begin I think its useful to give a formal definition for Postnatal depression: depression suffered by a mother following childbirth, typically arising from the combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustment to motherhood and fatigue.
So what are the baby blues? Do they differ? The Baby Blues tend to start day three post birth with the sudden change in hormones making you feel teary and overwhelmed, it tends to peak at week one with feelings of weariness, fatigue, anxiety and isolation, but then as the hormones settle by week three the high emotions begin to taper and should subside. Does this mean those first few weeks of Baby Blues do not require emotional attention? The baby blues look less blue and more grey to me, a limbo land; not being ok but not being classified as depressed.
In this picture by Anna Lewis, @sketchymuma gracefully summarises the first week and its hardship, does any parent really know what’s going on? You have a new house guest, who isn’t leaving anytime soon, and you are on a crash course of getting to know each other combined with a rush of hormones, depleted vitamin and mineral reserves and little sleep.
Research shows a lack of sleep can create clinical depression in the healthiest of people, during a study it was discovered that healthy adults when woken continually over a period of a month, without the demands of a baby or birth, were almost all diagnosed with clinical depression. Without pregnancy or a baby?! So who is responsible for the first few weeks being deemed ‘blue’ ? Somewhere around the 1940’s the experiences post birth were coined as baby blues. In his best-selling baby book Expectant Motherhood, 1940, Nicholson J. Eastman wrote:
“Most common among such reactions, perhaps, is what is colloquially called the ‘Baby Blues’.” Does this term now undermine the experience? Thankfully we’ve outgrown Eastman’s other advice on how to reduce baby blues, he helpfully advised women to limit themselves to 10 cigarette daily during pregnancy. Jeez!
If the term Baby Blues can no longer suffice maybe Dr Oscar Serrallach a family practitioner in Australia has the answer. Dr Serrallach using modern methods identifies the demands on the body describing the process as postnatal depletion, which can develop into more severe forms of depression. To briefly summarise his work, he recognises the scientific demands to grow a baby highlighting the nutritional demands and consequences. He takes into consideration the reprogramming of the mothers brain for parenthood which shrinks by 5% to pass the enormous amounts of fats required to the baby; 7 grams of fat from the placenta travels to the baby daily, Mums zinc, iron, Vitamin B12 Vitamin B9, Iodine, omega 3 fats, and selenium stores are all tapped into (low selenium is linked to depression). Dr Oscar describes further demands beyond pregnancy each impacting how they will emotionally take a toll on the mother.
Perhaps this scientific approach educates society to accept EVERY woman will feel quite literally depleted after her birth. Perhaps through a universal responsibility to meet every mother’s needs she is free to meet the needs of her baby. Mothers are also then on the radar should moods escalate and need further attention.
OK so what can you do to help yourself? Because of course the experience of birth is not just the sorry state of affairs I have sold it as in the 600ish words above. What can we do as an expectant parent to maximise the joy it also brings?
- Getting your support system in place is the first vital step! Know who you are going to utilise and make them aware
- Learn key tools prior to the birth
- Develop skills in how to protect your relationship
- Learn to identify the six states of a baby
- Explore the kind of parent you’ll be
Investing emotionally with a professional can help reduce symptoms of PND from 67 percent to 23 percent, explore beyond your traditional birthing classes to expand your emotional intelligence, which can be learnt unlike personality or IQ such an investment will not only prepare you for the realities but help you evolve as a conscious emotionally intelligent parent who exists in the moment making life more manageable and calmer.
Jerilee is the founder of My Baby Brain. She is a clinical psychotherapist and mother. She has a wonderful outlook on the uniqueness and delicacies of life. Her mindful approach and clarity seeps through in her work. You can find out more about Jerilee and My Baby Brain here or by checking out their facebook or instagram.