Pre- and post-natal depression and/or anxiety can impact the early parenting experience in lasting ways. Approximately 1 in 7 women will experience PND (Post-Natal Depression) and research has revealed that PND can happen to fathers too. It is now recognised that PND can be present in the ante-natal period (i.e., during pregnancy). The sooner either parent seeks assistance the better the outcome for all, although it's never too late. What causes Post-Natal Depression? Most women will get teary a few days after the birth of a baby when their hormones suddenly change. This is normal and will pass when the major hormonal readjustment has calmed down. Then the new mother must adjust to the many changes a new baby brings. Why any woman gets Post-Natal Depression depends on several factors:
Sleep deprivation can be a huge shock to many, especially to women who needed 8-9 hours prior to being pregnant.
Biochemical changes can trigger an imbalance in neurotransmitters that can manifest in symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The mother has massively increased demands on her time, energy and body.
Breastfeeding doesn't always go as expected and can be painful.
Lack of support for the new mother amplifies the effect of increased demands.
Sometimes mum is an 'A-type' who wants to flip back to being a super-energetic, organised woman. This can lead to depletion of resources.
Beliefs can sneak in that other mothers 'have it all together' and the new mum is failing.
Feelings of being overwhelmed or being inadequate can take over and lead to excessive worry.
Thoughts of "Am I doing this right?" and "What am I doing wrong that my baby won't sleep?" can lead to feelings of guilt or resentment.
Body image issues can certainly manifest as the woman realises her body is not going to ping back to its pre-baby shape.
Sometimes it was the birth itself that was traumatic or did not turn out how the mother imagined it.
If the mother has any personal or family history of depression or anxiety, symptoms can manifest now due to the stress of parenting.
Past issues with the new mother's own childhood can be triggered by the experience of becoming a parent.
Women need to know they are not to blame for how they feel and that it doesn't mean they are a bad parent or a lesser person. The whole physiological process of giving birth to and then caring for a baby is enormous. Post-natal depression is real, recognised, and significant. The sooner it is treated the better for all, especially your baby.
If you are feeling down for an ongoing period of time, then please seek help. If you have had bad thoughts about your baby and fear what you might do, please contact your doctor, hospital or child health nurse immediately or call lifeline on 13 11 14.
Post-Natal Depression counselling with a doctor's referral will qualify for the medicare subsidy of $84.80 to help with session fees.
When 2 Become 3: Relationship Problems
Relationship issues in the post-baby period can occur for many reasons, and your partner can attend sessions with you. Working together, both of you can work on the adjustment to parenting a new baby and on any relationship issues that have arisen. It is important that you each understand what is happening and know how best to cope at this time. It is now recognised that men experience some form of post-natal depression also. PND in the mother can be bewildering for the father, who is likely going through his own adjustment period. Dads are in the best position to support mum, especially in the absence of extended family help.
Relationship problems can arise when a new baby comes along, due to the transition from being a couple to a trio. It's a fertile time for arguments over housework and sex, and problems with in-laws can also flare up. The post-baby period, especially between 6 weeks to 4 months, is a time where big arguments can happen between couples. Sometimes things pass and others times this can be a sign of something more significant going on.
Clarissa's Perinatal Training and Experience
Clarissa has completed the Australian Psychological Society's training in Perinatal counselling and the intensive workshop offered by the Centre for Perinatal and Infant Mental Health. Previously Clarissa was a breastfeeding counsellor with the Nursing Mothers Association (now Breastfeeding Australia) where she educated and supported new mothers and facilitated groups. While professional skills and experience are important, often life experience is the greatest educator. Clarissa has 5 children (yes 5:) who now range in age from 12-22.
A message from Clarissa: It has been my desire to assist other parents through the challenges of parenting since personally discovering how hard it was. Having five children and professional experience by no means makes me an expert with answers for you. There are a multitude of well-meaning 'experts' out there, women who have had one, maybe two children (or even none!) and who feel they have the solution to 'doing it right', as well as male doctors and researchers who come from a position of influence. Yet one thing I do know is that each baby brings his or her own challenges: you simply can't generalise.
I also realised that while having babies is a natural function (although increasingly over medicalised), there is nothing 'natural' about parenting for many of us. I have made so many mistakes as a parent, and I have included some of my story below because I want you to know from the very start that you and I are one and the same. It's just that I am on the other side of the journey, turning back to shine a light to help you find your way through.
Personal story of Post-Natal Depression and Anxiety
I have always loved babies and always wanted to have children. But I was worried about what kind of mother I would be, as my upbringing was rather dysfunctional. In order not to become a mother like my own and for other reasons, I started on my own personal therapy a few years before I actually had children. I really think this helped, although nothing can really prepare you for the enormous change in your life when you have your first baby.
As much as I always wanted a baby it was the greatest learning curve in my entire life; nothing can prepare you for the shock and intensity of suddenly being responsible for another life. Everything was hard and new, I loved that I had finally become a mother, and I cried with guilt and exhaustion. My first baby hated sleeping and loved eating. I had enormous trouble and pain breastfeeding and spent hours rocking him to sleep only to have him wake 20 minutes later. I got a lot of help in the form of counselling, especially around feeding issues.
Having my second child when my first was only 15 months old was a tipping point. My first son still didn't like to sleep, and my second baby had silent reflux and screamed every time I put him down. It was around that time I started having flashes of fearful things happening, playing out like a horror movie in my mind. Later on as the boys got older I would take my infant and toddler to play group, and the other mums seemed to be so calm and collected while I felt like a crazy woman.
What I didn't even have the time to realise was that I was suffering from post-natal anxiety. I got through that period, but it wasn't something I ever wanted to return to. I planned my 3rd child with a decent gap of 3 years; he was a great sleeper, the 'ideal baby,' and I realised that it wasn't my parenting that was to blame with the first babies. I was happy with 3 children but then fell pregnant again. My fourth son was a very active baby, but I had all the experience from before so I managed better. I learnt how to make different mobiles to keep him amused (for about 10 minutes!) so I could get something done. This baby had obvious reflux and would projectile vomit frequently. Discovering I was pregnant a 5th time when my 4th baby was only 6 months old started a new downward spiral. I felt completely stuck, trapped. I knew how hard it was having the first two so close together, and I had vowed never to go through that again. I sought help from my GP and support from my therapist and developed strategies to get me through, including getting in-home help.
What I have learned from having 5 babies of the same gender is that
All babies are very different, and how we parent in response to each of them and what is happening in our life at the time varies enormously.
The mask of motherhood is damaging to those of us who are not 'naturals' at parenting. If you didn't have a loving, caring mother, you have to work harder on yourself to be the best parent you can.
Good enough is good enough, and trying to be perfect is doomed.
Infants have temperaments and biological variations that we have to work out and work with.
Other people's advice is sometimes helpful but often confusing.