Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Baby blues

There’s still this big myth that new mothers are ecstatically happy and madly in love with their new baby, that it’s the best time of their life. Nobody wants to talk about the large number of new mums who get severe post natal depression and are at their wits’ end.

Up to 25 per cent of new mothers get PND, and almost 50 per cent of teenage mothers, and it can last several months or even a year. And yet this huge departure from the rose-tinted image of motherhood is constantly swept under the carpet.

A TV programme tonight featured several women who were badly affected by PND. Instead of being overjoyed by the new arrival, they felt no bond with the baby, they felt their body was ruined, they cried all the time, they felt paralysed, they felt inadequate, and when it was really bad they just wanted to die. Some mothers are so distressed they actually kill the child.

Often they’ve never heard of PND and they don’t know what’s going on. They just wonder why they can’t cope and wonder what’s wrong with them.

They feel scared or ashamed of admitting their feelings or asking for help. If they do admit their feelings, they may be shunned by their friends who see them as abnormal.

Whether help is available is very much a postcode lottery. In some areas mothers can get all sorts of help including psychotherapy, anti-depressants and mothers’ groups. In other areas there’s very little help and PND is still seen as nothing more than “baby blues”.

The causes of PND are still not properly understood. Many things have been suggested, from birth-related trauma to marital difficulties, low self-esteem and unwanted pregnancies. Whatever the cause, it can strike right out of the blue, even to women who were perfectly happy and well-adjusted before the baby was born.

So let’s stop pretending new mums are always over the moon. Quite often in private they’re thoroughly miserable and desperate for help.

22 comments:

Bijoux said...

I always thought it was related to the vastly fluctuating hormones? I'm not sure how a new mother of today would be ignorant on the subject. It was in all the prenatal books I read 20 years ago. Nevertheless, the woman's ob/gyn and pediatrician should be discussing it at each visit in that first year.

Nick said...

Bijoux: It seems there's no clear link between hormones and PND, since many mothers don't get PND, and since men get it as well. Also, hormone treatment doesn't usually help. But yes, many mothers are ignorant about it. Which points to poor education and poor pre-natal care.

Grannymar said...

I was one of the fortunate happy mothers, but never took it for granted. I have known a few who only became comfortable with their children when they (the children) reached teen age.

John Gray said...

When I worked as a nurse in psychiatry , I worked on a mother and baby unit in York.....
We catered for up to six mums and babies......all. The others were seriously ill following childbirth.....
These women were the most floridly ill of any patient I ever nursed

Nick said...

Grannymar: Wow, that's a very long time to be uncomfortable with your own kids! Even if they're generally a pain in the arse!

Nick said...

John: You mean seriously ill with PND rather than just medically ill?

Liz said...

I was fortunate and didn't suffer but it must be a terrible thing. Especially when you're expected to be overjoyed. So hard.

Nick said...

Liz: As you say, especially devastating when you expect to be enamoured with your new baby. It's awful that a lot of women still feel too ashamed to even talk about it.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I work with a lot of women who have what we call post-partum depression. It's a serious problem, and I really think society colludes to make women feel like it ought to come naturally. As if everyone just immediately bonds in a blissful way with their new infant. I had tons of experience with babies before I had kids (with 6 younger sibs and babysitting experience), but even so I found it overwhelming and exhausting at times. Not to the post of depression, but I could imagine what it might be like if you went into it thinking it was going to be just endles cuddling of a happy, cooing infant, with plenty of sleep to go around!

Nick said...

Agent: Yes, even when women are aware of other mothers' experiences, I think they can still be overwhelmed by the sheer neediness of a new baby and just how unblissful it can often be.

kylie said...

having a baby is , in itself, an enormous change in life and it often comes with changes in employment, possibly living quarters, a change in the parents' relationship etc. any and all of those things alone can trigger a depression response.

the presence of a doula at birth reduces reported PND. it also increases the parents relationship satisfaction which has to be protective. i dont think a reason for this effect has been proven (the effect itself is in the literature)but a lot of the doula's role is involved with protecting and supporting normal hormonal response, which gives weight to the hormone theory as cause for PND.
it is also known among women, and forgive me if it sounds airy fairy, that the time of giving birth makes an imprint not only on the baby but on the mother and a traumatic birth will imprint and have a negative effect on her. the consistent support of a doula has the ability to reduce trauma, even in very difficult birth circumstances, lending some weight to the trauma theory.

and i have a zillion comments to make from the POV of a mother but i need to get to bed......later maybe

Nick said...

Kylie: Yup, I'm sure having a doula around must make a happier post-birth experience much more likely. For all sorts of reasons.

By time of birth, do you mean how long the birth actually takes? Because I can imagine that a very long and difficult birth is more likely to leave the mother with negative feelings.

Do weigh in again if you want!

Rummuser said...

I know of cases where women have developed PND and the fathers had to take charge of the bringing up of the child/ren. Eventually the mothers, at least all those that I know of, recovered and became good mothers. It needs correct diagnosis and can be handled in large families.

Nick said...

Ramana: Good to know they recovered and became good mothers in the end. Was there any particular thing that helped them recover?

Wisewebwoman said...

I know of a case right here and now where the mother (21) could not cope with the reality of life post partum and took off, leaving the child with the father (a drug user) and 4 quite appalling grandparents who are ill equipped to deal with a now toddler. Mother just never bonded at all.
It is very complicated and sad and the beautiful little guy is tossed from pillar to post and I frankly don't know if foster care is the answer.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www: What a dreadful situation. And yes, how awful for the child being passed around like an unwanted present.

Rummuser said...

Proper diagnosis, counseling and limiting the size of the family to a maximum of two children. I have just cross checked with one who underwent psychiatric treatment and she confirms that no medication was prescribed.

Nick said...

Ramana: So counselling was the immediate treatment and that was effective, rather than medication? That's interesting. And you're saying that a third child increases the risk of PND?

Rummuser said...

No, I am not saying that. The medical advise for all the women I know, prone to PND is to avoid the next child. Makes sense to me as while growing up a child will need the full attention of a mother and an illness can cause problems that will manifest later.

Nick said...

Ramana: Oh I see, just avoiding another child. That makes sense.

Jay at The Depp Effect said...

I don't know how I missed this one.

You're absolutely right. I admit to having 'baby blues' at times, but that's all they were. 'Baby blues' come from the overwhelming nature of the situation you find yourself in and the realisation that you can't exactly give them back and you're stuck with them for the next eighteen years, and meanwhile it's up to YOU to raise this infant safe and secure and well-adjusted and you are just. so. tired. you can hardly think straight.

My sister-in-law, however, had severe post-natal depression. The real deal. It came back worse with the second to the point where her doctor counselled them both not to attempt any more pregnancies - so they adopted their third and fourth children.

We are about to become grandparents for the first time and I'm very well aware that - especially with twins on the way - there is the potential for our daughter-in-law to suffer badly. I'm standing by to help!

Good for you for highlighting this issue. You're right, it's often swept under the carpet and not taken seriously.

Nick said...

Jay: So with your sister in law adopting two more children, they had concluded that it was the pregnancies that were causing the PND rather than the children themselves?

Yes, I hope your daughter in law doesn't have the same problems.