Postnatal depression

Often a taboo subject, postnatal depression is estimated to affect one in 10 new mothers in the UK

What is postnatal depression?
Commonly referred to as PND, postnatal depression is a type of depression that some women feel after they have a baby. Women can experience PND anytime within the first year of childbirth, however it is most common in the first four to six weeks after a woman has given birth.

What causes postnatal depression?
There is often no reason for a woman to experience PND. Medical experts believe that it is not caused by a single factor, but because of a number of combined reasons. Although everyone’s situation is different, the NHS believe that factors could include:
•  Feelings of depression during pregnancy.
•  Anxiety about the responsibility of having a new baby.
•  A difficult delivery.
•  Lack of support at home.
•  Relationship worries.
•  Money problems.
•  Mental health problems in the past.
•  Physical health problems following the birth.

What are the symptoms?
Like most illnesses, PND can affect women in different ways. Some of the most common symptoms include low mood for long periods of time, and feeling irritable. It is important to realise that these thoughts do not mean that you are a bad mother. It is very rare for a baby to be physically harmed from PND. A lot of women often don’t realise that their symptoms are related to depression so it is important for family members and friends to recognise these signs at an early stage so that they can seek professional help and advice.

How is PND diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects that you may have PND then he might ask you the following questions:
•  During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
•  During the past month, have you often been bothered by taking little or no pleasure in doing things that normally make you happy?

What treatment is available?
Once you have been diagnosed with PND, treatment can begin. One of the most important steps in treating PND is admitting that you have the condition. Support from your family and friends can also help in the recovery process. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe you with a course of antidepressants. These will help to balance the mood-altering chemicals in your brain. After taking antidepressants for two or three weeks you should begin to notice an improvement. Studies have shown that between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of women who are prescribed antidepressants see an improvement in their symptoms. Sufferers of PND may also be advised to visit a therapist where they will be given the opportunity to talk about their feelings. Research has suggested that combining a course of antidepressants with visits to a therapist is better than either treatment on their own.

What self-help methods are there?
While medical experts are not clear on the causes of PND, there are several things that women can do to decrease their risk of getting the illness. Prevention methods include getting enough rest, taking regular exercise, keeping your blood sugars at the right level, eating a healthy balanced diet while avoiding alcohol as much as possible and talking to your partner or close friends as soon as you feel symptoms of PND occurring. 

How can severe postnatal depression be treated?
If the symptoms of PND are more serious, your GP may advise that you are referred to the NHS’s mental health team. Here, they may give you the opportunity to undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) if antidepressants and other treatments haven’t worked. ECT is when a person is given general anesthetic and medication to relax their muscles and then electrodes are placed on their head so that electricity can be passed through the brain.

The information provided within this article has been sourced via NHS Choices,

By Lauren King

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