When I had my first daughter, I didn’t really think that much about PND. I didn’t think it would affect me and luckily, I was right. Don’t get me wrong, I had some serious lows; the lack of sleep, endless crying and anxiety about breastfeeding and whether I was doing it ‘right’ definitely took its toll. After my second daughter there were moments when I felt like I was completely losing my mind. I remember my husband arriving home to me sobbing over a pan of pasta while carrying my screaming daughter in a baby carrier on my front, she’d been crying for hours and there was nothing I could do to sooth her. Luckily these moments were relatively fleeting for me.
But looking back, my world seemed to revolve around myself and our baby. I didn’t really think about what my husband was going through and, when you think about it, other than the giving birth part, he was dealing with everything too and I didn’t give it a second thought.
It’s not surprising then, that Father’s experience post-natal depression too. Depending on the studies you read, anywhere from 10 to 22% of Dad’s experience it. The prevalence seems to peak at 3-6 months after birth and is much higher in younger father’s and those who have experienced depression before. Of Father’s with depressed partners, 24-50% of them go through depression themselves and a dramatic 1 in 3 new fathers worry about their own mental health. It’s also not only mothers who have to deal with fluctuating hormone levels; Men’s testosterone levels have been shown to drop by almost 50% after the birth of their child.
Much like for Mothers, Fathers experience difficulties adjusting to the new order of things. Lack of sleep and dealing with a crying baby can naturally take their toll. Add that to stress at work or worry about financial responsibilities and it seems almost natural that they may struggle. What makes it’s harder is that they may feel alone or unusual and are less likely to talk about it. While work is being done to raise the profile of Father’s and PND, awareness is nowhere near where it needs to be.
What to look out for
Fear, confusion, helplessness and uncertainty about the future
A feeling of disconnection and withdrawal from family life, work and social situations
Struggling to bond with the new baby
Frustration, irritability and anger
Negative parenting behaviours
Alcohol and drug use
Physical symptoms like indigestion, changes in appetite and weight, diarrhoa, constipation, headaches, toothaches and nausea.
The key to really recognising whether you are experiencing PND is to think about how long you’ve been experiencing these symptoms. If the symptoms seem to persist with no respite for at least two weeks’ it’s time to start getting some advice and start thinking about your mental health.
Ways to seek help & to help yourself
Without a doubt, one of the best ways to get on the road to recovery is to start talking about how you feel. Talking therapies are a good first port of call and your GP or local support groups will be able to point you in the right direction. (I wouldn’t want to comment on the use of medication – your GP will be able to guide you there.) I have included a long list of charities and support groups at the end – they are mostly made up of people who have felt exactly how you are feeling and will be fantastically supportive people to connect with.
There are also a few things you can do yourself to help get on the road to recovery:
Apps to help with self-management
Calm – Using guiding meditation and sleep stories
Headspace – Guided meditation and mindfulness
7 cups – Online therapy and free counselling
Superbetter – Using gaming to increase your resilience and impact your mood
Moodpath – is a leading depression app and accompanies you on your way out of depression. Using assessment and exercises to help you start to improve your mental health.
Moodkit – CBT a one-of-a-kind app designed to help you apply effective strategies of professional psychology to your everyday life
Happify – Science based activities and games to help to lift your mood.
Increasing your activity – even brief 5 minute spurts of activity will make a difference
While finding the time to exercise may feel like an impossible task – the benefits should not be under-valued. Exercise is said to be just as effective as anti-depressants in dealing with PND but without the side-affects. It increases serotonin and endorphins which regulate mood, giving you energy and helping with sleep. The key is not to feel like it needs to be a full work out, brief bursts of exercise even 5 mins worth will have a positive impact.
Sunlight – Vitamin D
It’s easy to become fairly house bound with a new baby. Just the hassle to get them in the pram or buggy can be daunting especially if they’re a winter baby. But Vitamin D from sunlight helps to release serotonin which, like exercise plays a significant part in regulating your mood. The good news is that Vitamin D also helps your baby to work out the difference between night and day and so hopefully, it’s win win.
Food to lift your mood
Eating regular, smaller meals and avoiding sugary, high carb treats and alcohol will help to avoid fluctuations in your blood sugar level and keep mood swings and tiredness at bay. Use stimulants like caffeine sparingly. While it can give you the much-needed quick burst of energy, it can leave you feeling anxious and depressed and disturb your ever-precious sleep.
Certain foods can have a positive impact on your mood. I’ve tried to include the ones that are easily accessible and do not require a huge amount of effort to prepare: Walnuts (nuts and seeds generally), Pomegranate, Yoghurt & kefir, Chocolate, Apricots, Blueberries and Fatty fish.
If you are feeling low after the arrival of your new baby then you are very much not alone and certainly not unusual
Make sure to start talking with people about how you’re feeling and be gentle with yourself and your partner
If you’re looking to engage with others or to try the self-help route then there’s a lot of support out there for you – just make sure to reach out
If you are feeling very low or thinking about harming yourself or your baby then you may be experiencing postnatal psychosis – please speak with your GP urgently or call 111 or a helpline mentioned below.
Accessing talking therapies & Support groups
Charities and support groups:
Families lives: www.familylives.org.uk
Puerperal Psychosis & Postnatal Depression Support www.puerperalpsychosis.org.uk
UK Postpartum Psychosis Network www.app-network.org
NCT Helpline: 0300 330 0700 www.nctpregnancyandbabycare.com
Blogs to help: www.postpartumprogress.com