Becoming a mother is a transformational experience even for the most emotionally robust of women.
Although society and the media often portray becoming a mother as a blissful event which brings the woman joy, fulﬁlment and feelings of intense love, the reality of being a mother rarely matches the fantasised ideal.
A new mother can feel very guilty if she is not feeling the happiness and love anticipated. Though she had longed for a child, she doesn’t feel happy and fulﬁlled, sometimes being “taken over” by sadness, anxiety or a just a pervasive numbness. Mothers can feel an enormous sense of shame and guilt if they experience anything except positive feelings about having a baby.
Many women show some depressive symptoms after childbirth — it’s very normal to feel teary, exhausted and emotional after you’ve had your baby. That’s why it can be tricky to know what is normal “baby blues” and what isn’t.
The baby blues tend to be labelled as postpartum depression if the symptoms intensify and last longer than a couple of weeks. You can think of it as a continuum with some mild depressive symptoms at one end and severe postpartum depression or even postpartum psychosis at the other end. Help must be sought immediately if the mother experiences severe symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions or has thoughts of harming herself or the baby.
You are not alone
Postpartum depression is estimated to affect 1 in 8 new mothers within a year after they give birth. It is sometimes described as the “smiling depression” as mothers often keep their difﬁculties to themselves. The general symptoms of postpartum depression are quite similar to normal depression and will vary for each woman. Some mothers may experience severe sadness or emptiness while others might feel numb; there could be a belief around being a failure as a mother, while some women might worry excessively about their baby or show a lack of interest.
There are many reasons why a mother would suffer from PPD, including:
· Little social, emotional and financial support available
· Difficult family background and upbringing
· Previous history of depression
· Fertility issues
· Previous miscarriages
· Difficulty breastfeeding
· History of significant mood reaction to hormonal changes
· Stressful events such as: loss, divorce, moving home
· Very difficult childbirth experience
· Baby with health issues
Postpartum depression can hit both younger and older mothers, rich and poor; first time mothers and mothers on their fourth child.
Thankfully, as hopeless as the situation might seem at the time, there is help out there and women can get better with the right treatment plan.
It is less important that the mother “ticks all the boxes” for postpartum depression and instead asks herself with honesty: are my difficult feelings and depressive or anxious thoughts getting in the way of being the mother I want to be? If the answer is yes or even if you are not sure, get some help. Don’t wait for it to go away on its own as you will be missing out on the immense richness of early motherhood with all its ups and downs.
Start by opening up to the people closest to you who you know will be supportive and encouraging. Make an appointment with your GP or healthcare provider and enquire about counselling options or / and a referral to a psychiatrist. KKH and NUK have excellent women clinics. Some mothers may need medication while for others psychological support will be enough to help them through this difficult time.
Tips for coping
- Find someone to talk to about your feelings. Open up to your partner, a good friend, your own mother or someone you know who will listen with compassion and care.
- Join a Support Group – it can really help to know that you are not on your own. Visit Mindful Mums website (www.mindfulmums.sg).
- Ask for practical help with childcare, chores, and errands.
- Find time for yourself. Try exercising, walking, taking a bath, or something else you enjoy. Give yourself 15 minutes a day at least.
- Eat a good, healthy diet. Eat small, frequent meals.
- Keep a diary: Write down your feelings and thoughts.
- Know that parenting is hard so let go of perfection, a tidy house or manicured nails. You are doing your best!