What does postnatal depression feel like and how can you get help?

As footage circulates of Meghan Markle looking visibly upset while talking about being a new mother, so does conversation about postnatal depression.

Postnatal depression (a serious type of depression that affects people after they’ve had a baby) affects up to one in ten women during the first year after their baby has been born. It’s only different to ‘regular depression’ in that the birth of a child is generally a trigger (although research has yet to conclude in any definite ‘causes’ of PND), but it’s just as grave and serious and in need of attention and treatment.

It’s hugely common for new mothers to feel emotional – the onslaught of hormones, emotional and physical strains on your body during pregnancy and birth is enormous. If you feel overly teary, emotional and irritable after having a baby this can usually be put down to your body and mind adjusting, and lasts around two weeks. This is the ‘baby blues’. Postnatal depression is a whole different beast.

Dr Gaya Nathan, a partner and GP at the Harrow Healthcare Centre, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Pregnancy and having a baby can take a massive toll on a person’s body and the birth itself can, in some cases, be a very traumatic experience.

‘Throughout pregnancy, women are bombarded with an increase in hormones that can drastically affect mood and post-birth many mothers struggle with sleep and exhaustion, which can all contribute to postnatal depression.”

Mothers with postnatal depression often feel like they have no maternal connection to their new child, and don’t experience any positive (or negative) feelings towards their baby at all.

Gwyneth Paltrow has shared that after the birth of her son Moses in 2006, she went through something similar. ‘At my lowest, I was a robot,’ she said. ‘I just didn’t feel anything. I had no maternal feelings for him – it was awful. I couldn’t connect, and still, when I look at pictures of him at three months old, I don’t remember that time.’

Alanis Morissette also shared details of the huge toll postnatal took on her body and her mind, saying: ‘The degree and intensity of my post-natal depression shocked me. I am predisposed to depression, but what surprised me this time was the physical pain. I hadn’t realised the depths to which you can ache – limbs, back, torso, head, everything hurt – and it went on for 15 months.

‘I felt as if I was covered in tar and everything took 50 times more effort than normal. I wished I could have cried but there was no relief during that time; my version of depression is almost below crying where there is just despondency… I had various therapies and now I feel all light and springy. Thankfully, it didn’t interfere with the bond with my son, although I think that has strengthened since I got better.’

As it’s 2019 and we all live on the internet, there are now an array of support groups and outlets for parents to join if they’re being affected by postnatal depression in any way.

We spoke to the wonderful Rosey who, after experiencing the debilitating effects of PND herself, now runs #PNDhour on Twitter, giving fellow sufferers an open space to share experiences and advice.

She told us: ‘Postnatal depression to me felt endless, dark and incredibly lonely. I felt like I everything was muffled, like the world didn’t quite make sense.

‘There wasn’t one defining moment where I realised I had PND, it kind of crept up on me all at once, within the first few weeks after she was born.

‘I wasn’t enjoying being a mum, I would rather be in a different room to her except for when I was breastfeeding. I didn’t connect with her and my (now ex) partner had to take over a lot of the main caring for her.

‘I finally sought help when she was around eight months old, having struggled  in silence for fear of being judged as a young mother who couldn’t cope (I was 19 at the time).’

The stigma and fear of potentially being judged as a bad mother is a huge, unnecessary weight on the minds of many PND sufferers, who’ll put off getting help because of it. As with every mental illness, the more we can talk about it the more accepted and de-stigmatised it can become.

Dr Nathan says: ‘there are many myths about postnatal depression. One is that it is less severe than other types of depression but in fact, it’s as serious as other types of depression. In some cases, women can experience a form of psychosis that requires urgent medical help.

‘Another is that it is some form of temporary depression and that it will soon pass. However, postnatal depression can persist for months if left untreated and in a minority of cases, it can become a long-term problem.’

If you think you’re going through postnatal depression, it’s important you make an appointment with a medical professional as soon as possible, and that you try and explain your situation to a loved one so that you can have some support.

Claire Poste told us that things only started to improve for her once she’d sought help through counselling and medication.

‘I had both PND and postnatal anxiety but for me it felt like a disconnect from my baby – the thing I’d wanted and looked forward to for a long time,’ she told us. ‘I was so scared of being left alone with him, that he wouldn’t sleep or I wasn’t providing him with enough stimulation or feeding him enough. I think the overwhelming feeling was fear and guilt that I wasn’t feeling the way a new mum was ‘supposed’ to feel.

‘I begged my husband to find someone else to look after my son because I just felt like I couldn’t cope. It was a very very dark time and I felt like it would never end. It went on this way for about four months until I started to feel better following some medication and counselling.”

Claire also told us that she had previously suffered from depression, so she ‘was really aware that it was a big possibility that I would get PND or PNA. My problems started when I was pregnant so I basically transitioned from antenatal depression to PND and PNA. So I was always aware of it, just not really able to stop it.’

But if you’ve suffered or are suffering from depression, does that mean you’re a strong candidate to get postnatal depression, too?

‘Evidence would suggest that there is a definite link between depression in earlier life and post-natal depression,’ says Dr Nathan. ‘But that is not to say that if you have suffered from depression previously that you will experience post-natal depression.

‘It can differ drastically from person to person depending on the birth, aftercare or other factors. In some cases, there appears to be no reason at all for post-natal depression to occur.

‘If you have a history of depression or mental health problems or a member of your family has, tell your GP if you’re pregnant or thinking about having a baby, so that it can be carefully monitored.’

For more information on postnatal depression and how to get help, please visit Mind’s dedicated support page.

You can call the Association for Post Natal Illness between 10.00am and 2.00pm on: 0207 386 086

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