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Do you have post-pregnancy blues?

Feeling depressed or down after the birth of your baby is more common than you might think. We help you get it all in perspective

Having a baby is about as monumental a life event as there is. For nine months, all you can think about is meeting your baby.

You’ve probably wondered who he will look like, what your choice of names might be and how you’re going to show him off to friends and family once you get him home. At the same time, you may wonder whether or not you will be a good mother – will caring for a helpless baby come naturally to you? All the anxieties you go through are perfectly normal. The good news is that once you give birth, you are bound to feel euphoric for a period of time.

However, many postnatal women experience a very big range of emotions in the days and weeks that follow – some big highs, and some scary lows.

Most women, although exhausted, are on an emotional high after their little one has been delivered. They are relieved that the birth is over and that the baby is well. For some women, these feelings remain well into their baby’s first months – but for others the story is more complicated.

Having a baby is a challenging, exciting and emotionally-charged time. But it can be stressful too. Just be prepared to feel a range of emotions and know that however you’re feeling – it’s normal! And never be afraid to ask for help.

What can you do about PND?

Post-natal depression has only really been recognised as a debilitating and real phenomenon in recent years but – these days – health professionals are on the look out for it. Sometimes though it can escape under the radar of even the most astute GP or health visitor. Some women are very successful and adept at hiding their feelings and symptoms. Most often this is because they feel guilt or shame about what they are experiencing. But PND is a serious illness and it’s important to seek advice – don’t run away from it, deal with it. So, if you think you may be suffering from PND, just pick up the phone and arrange to talk to your GP or health visitor. You will feel better if you start to off-load some of these feelings and emotions.

I feel miserable!

For many women, the sense of responsibility for their newborn baby can be totally overwhelming. Feelings of anxiety and depression can begin to take over and it can all feel just too much!

This is commonly known as the baby blues, or postpartum blues.

It is estimated that as many as 50% to 80% of new mothers will experience this. So, if you are one of these mums, remember you are in good company! Tiredness and chemical and hormonal changes in the body can trigger these uncomfortable feelings.

Often they last only a few days but sometimes these feelings can be compounded – particularly if you have had a difficult or long birth. When this happens, a woman may be experiencing what is known as, postnatal depression, or PND. This is a more serious condition and needs to be handled with sensitivity and appropriate medical care.

What is a ‘normal’ feeling?

As a new mum, you will worry about whether or not your baby is healthy – you are going to ask yourself if he or she is gaining enough weight or sleeping well. These are normal thoughts to have. You may well wonder too if your little one will grow up to be a happy, well-adjusted child. It’s all part of being a mum!

By the same token, new mums do feel pretty exhausted a lot of the time. You won’t get as much sleep as your body is used to and some of what you do get will be broken sleep. That takes its toll. If you can, ask your partner, a friend or granny and granddad to take your baby for a push round the park for an hour to give you some time for yourself. And try to sleep whenever your baby sleeps.

Some women also experience a sense of loss or emptiness shortly after giving birth – they miss their bump! Try to talk about how you’re feeling with your partner and friends that already have children. They should be able to reassure you that this feeling will ease.

Above all, don’t forget that your health visitor is there to reassure you with any of these worries and to advise about all aspects of raising your baby – from feeding to sleeping. Also, try talking to friends who have children about how they felt after giving birth. You’ll find their learning curve was just as steep as yours. Accept any help, either emotional or practical, that they offer you.

Have I got postnatal depression (PND)?

‘I was a complete wreck after giving birth’
Rita Brownlow, 37, describes how baby blues took her completely by surprise

‘After a fabulous labour and delivery, (thank god for epidurals!), I was handed a beautiful baby girl (a moment I’ll never forget) and was all starry-eyed, imagining that things could only get better. How wrong I was! I couldn’t breastfeed properly, I was living with my in-laws and had no privacy. And I was sleep-deprived. It was just all too much. I thought I was totally prepared but I didn’t expect to feel so low. I cried all the time. This went on for six weeks. I finally told my health visitor how I was feeling and she helped me realise that I wasn’t a bad mother. Slowly, things got better and three months on,

I’m happy to say I am enjoying every minute of motherhood.’

For around 15% of women, despair and depression can set in and last well into your baby’s first year. If this happens, you may well be suffering from PND, so don’t be afraid to ask for help and to recognise just what is going on.

Although every sufferer’s symptoms will vary, some or all of the following are very likely to be present:

A feeling of lowness that just won’t shift
Lethargy and exhaustion
Unable to bond with baby
Crying over the smallest things
Feeling that you want to harm baby or yourself
Overwhelming anxiety and panic attacks
A feeling of isolation from everyone around you
Feeling there’s no happiness in your life

If you have two or more of these symptoms, you could have PND. So, don’t just sit there suffering in silence – take action and get help now.

‘I had PND’

After the birth of Flynn, my second son, I suffered post-natal depression, and again after the birth of my daughter Evie. The first time around, one of the most frightening aspects of it for me was that I had no idea what was happening.

I thought I was slowly going mad and losing a grip on all reality. It was terrifying and an incredibly lonely experience.

My marriage could have very easily ended as Wayne had no idea what had happened to his wife and we could not communicate with each other. At my lowest point I just wished it would all be over and I thought about the nearby traffic on a busy duel carriage way and how easily I could end the pain.

Things started to get better when I first asked for help; I spoke to my health visitor, my midwife and my GP and in this instance it was my doctor who helped me the most. It seemed that just having a diagnosis helped set me on a path to recovery and slowly through rest and talking I started to reclaim the old me, which I thought I’d lost forever. After about three months I started to laugh and smile again and feel happy, something I didn’t feel at all during the early days. Having gone through this twice I would say to anyone suffering from PND, remember, there is light at the end of the tunnel and you will get through it, but be gentle with yourself, and ask for help.’

It’s only natural…

It is completely natural as a new mum, to run the gamut of emotions. Most mothers will worry about their newborn – is he healthy, is he gaining enough weight, is he sleeping well? Will he grow up to be a happy, well-adjusted child?

Your health visitor is there to reassure you with any of these worries and to advise about feeding and sleeping. Also, try talking to friends who have children about how they felt after giving birth. You’ll find their learning curve was just as steep as yours. Accept any help, either emotional or practical, that they offer you.

…to feel tired
By the same token, it is to be expected as a new mum to be tired to the point of exhaustion – all that broken sleep takes its toll – and to have hormonal mood swings. Ask your partner, a friend or granny and granddad to take your baby for a push round the park for an hour to give you some time to yourself. And try to sleep when he sleeps.

…to feel lost with no bump
Some women have a sense of loss or emptiness shortly after giving birth and miss their bump. Try to talk about how you’re feeling with your partner and friends that already have children. They should be able to reassure you that this feeling will ease.

…to have concerns
Now your baby has arrived you may also be wondering how you will cope financially, whether you have enough space or whether you will be able to go back to work.The key is to take time to enjoy your baby. Other considerations can be worked out all in good time. The housework can wait… he can’t!

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