Baby Blues…. a phrase that can cover such a vast array of feelings, emotions and fears but in other ways doesn’t even come close to hitting the nail on the head. It is quite the generalisation, although this is understandable given that each new Mum can be affected differently, or perhaps not at all.
I felt low after having Josh; not significantly enough to say I had Post Natal Depression, but I certainly had the blues. There was a certain amount of having to speak up I had to do; leaning on my husband for support and reassurance that I wasn’t totally ballsing up this motherhood thing, and in the end, discussing it with my GP to nip it in the bud as I didn’t want it escalating into something more serious. So I have to admit, this time around I am a little bit nervous about how I will deal with the blues once the baby arrives. Thankfully there is a lot of support out there and I now have some knowledge of what I am about to let myself in for! But it seems this is something that does play on the minds of many Mums to be and I can fully understand why.
One of the things that can immediately concern and confuse Mums is the difference between said Baby Blues and the more serious Post Natal Depression. Thankfully we now seem to be opening up more about this subject which has been quite taboo over the years, sadly because women feel shame in what they’re going through. A lot of new Mums most likely feel immediately panicked when they start to feel a bit low, usually around day 3 after giving birth (that famous “your milk coming in” day). Hormones are flying about like there’s no tomorrow and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and immediately confuse these irrational emotions with something that can eventually be a lot more serious.
Let’s look at the baby blues first. Undoubtedly your midwife will have mentioned them to you, or you will have heard experiences from friends or family about them. It is extremely common, affecting around 8 out of 10 women in the few days after delivery. As I mentioned before, it coincides with the timing of your milk coming in; because having boobs that suddenly ache and feel like boulders isn’t punishment enough, they are going to join forces with those pesky bitching hormones and the fact that you’ve run out of chocolate bourbons in the house is going to be enough for you to demand a divorce and cry for three hours straight. Everything is heightened; every thing seems overwhelming. And you know what, give yourself a break; it bloody well is overwhelming. You’ve just delivered a human into the world either by squeezing it out of an orifice you still can’t quite comprehend will accommodate a human head, or via major surgery which will result in you being carted home with your tiny human and a box of paracetamol. If this is your first, you’ve got to try and get your head around this insane life change you’ve suddenly been hit with. If it’s your second, you’ve got to try and work out how in Gods name you are going to balance two kids. It IS an overwhelming time. So if you ask me, allow yourself to feel those emotions! You’re likely to be dealing with the hell on earth that is sleep deprivation too and with all of these things combined, your mood will understandably alter. You may weep at anything and everything, you may feel paranoid that something is wrong with your baby and start to worry something is wrong with them when in fact they are more than likely absolutely fine. You may just feel mighty pissed off and tired. And yes, this all sounds hideous but rest assured, the baby blues come and go very quickly. The vast majority of my friends have said they went through it and had a day or two of having a good cry then moved on, felt fine and forgot all about it. Take comfort in the fact that the blues don’t last and soon settle down (as do they mammoth boobs that they accompany)!
I think one thing that should be mentioned is that it’s important for the Dad to have some information on the baby blues. I don’t think this is something many men are aware of and with the increasing amount of press coverage relating to Post Natal Depression, positive as that may be, it is likely if your partner sees you having a weepy day they’re likely to instantly panic and think their other half has got PND. Before your little bundle of joy comes along try and take the opportunity to give your partner some insight into the baby blues; you could ask them to read a chapter on the subject from a pregnancy book, or if you are attending antenatal classes, broach the subject with the teacher so they can offer some insight. I think if men have an idea of how to deal with the baby blues, and have the understanding it is a very temporary side effect after birth, it can offer some comfort to them and stop them panicking that it will develop into something more serious. And there are lots of ways your other half, along with friends and family, can perk you up during those first few hormonal days; enjoy having visitors and company (on your say so – don’t feel you have to have visitors), on the understanding that they spoil you with cups of tea and make sure not to outstay their welcome. It’s important you get plenty of rest too so stick to the napping when baby naps rule whenever you can; sleep deprivation can really add to your emotions so it’s great if you can eliminate this, even just a small amount. One thing I always found that helped me was to get out in the fresh air; show off your new pram and take baby for a walk, half an hour out the house and getting a bit of natural vitamin D can make all the difference. And if you need a cry, have a cry! Explain to your partner how you’re feeling, and that this is a common side effect and allow yourself a bit of a sob, but at the same time let them be there for you and take on board their support and love. You’ve gone through a heck of a lot in the last few days and bottling things up is never good. Hopefully these little tips, along with your bundle of joy and the many bunches of flowers you’re likely to be bought, will get you through those couple of days of baby blues.
Of course, there are occasions when things are more serious than the baby blues. Recognising the signs of Post Natal Depression and seeking advice and support as early as possible is of great importance. PND affects as many as one in eight mothers in the UK, bearing in mind that these statistics are only based on the number of people who come forward for help. It tends to rear its ugly head within the first five weeks of giving birth and tends to be ongoing with common signs including extreme tiredness, a lack of interest in yourself or your baby, cutting yourself off from seeing others, a feeling hopelessness as though you aren’t doing a good job as a mother, and not being able to enjoy any aspect of your life. Of course any mother will have days where she experiences guilt or is weepy with sleep deprivation so I am talking about this being on a much larger scale and lasting for more than a couple of weeks. As with other forms of depression, it is unlikely you will be able to recognise these signs in yourself, and if you do, it is also unlikely you’d want to admit to them. So many women see depression of any form a huge failure which makes them reluctant to seek support and help. Fortunately with PND being something that is spoken about more and more, partners, family and friends should all be able to recognise the signs and offer support and encourage you to discuss these feelings with your GP or health visitor.
It’s so important that women get support for this. It can affect the bond you have with your baby and of course, that’s not something any mother wants. And it can be hard for your partner and those close to you see you retreat within yourself. As someone who has suffered mild depression in the past, I think one thing I learnt in a big way is that admitting something is wrong and that you need some support is half the battle won. It doesn’t make you a failure at all, it makes you stronger and it lifts such a huge weight of relief from you. It’s so corny but a problem shared is a problem halved, and talking to someone your close to, especially your partner, also helps them. As someone who loves you, they’ll do all they can to get you past this tricky point and back on your happy life path. There are various forms of help; counselling, anti-depressants and your health visitor and GP can put you in touch with groups of other mothers going through similar difficulties that can be of huge support and reassurance. Be open to all suggestions, and know any action you take is a huge positive on the well being of yourself and your precious baby.
There are lots of things you can do yourself to eliminate depressive feelings which can really help. Exercise is a good one; you’ll release endorphin’s which are the “feel good” hormones, therefore lifting your mood. You can join gentle post natal classes, or just do something simple such as getting out the house for a walk everyday. Which leads me to something I think is hugely important after having a baby. Make sure you get out and about; see people, do classes with your baby such as baby yoga and baby massage and meet fellow mummy friends at breastfeeding cafes that are often run by your local childrens centre. Some days you absolutely won’t want to; you will be tired, you won’t feel arsed to go out and you’ll long to stay indoors away from the world. But I promise you, getting out, in the fresh air, and talking to people can help you so much more than you realise. You never know who you are going to get chatting to but more often than not they will be feeling similar frustrations you’ve felt, and there is nothing quite like that reassurance of “it’s not just me” when a fellow Mum tells you that she too has sobbed over something that seems inadequate (note – lack of chocolate bourbons is never inadequate) and wondered what the hell is wrong with her. Making mummy friends along the way helps you to build up a support network and that is truly priceless. A final note is to take care of yourself. It can be easy to fall into that trap of skipping a shower and staying in your pyjamas all day. Don’t let this become a habit. Make sure you have your morning shower, refreshing yourself, even if just for 5 minutes whilst baby is down for a nap. Stick to doing these regular day to day routines and getting out and about. You don’t need to push yourself; baby steps (no pun intended) can be a good starting point. But if you have some form of normality, something you did before baby came along, something as simply and mundane as that rushed 5 minute shower, it can be oddly reassuring and a bit of familiarity in a time that feels as though it is full of chaos!
The final point I wanted to make is don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed, silly or guilty for feeling down. Although people are more clued up now on PND and what it entails, there are still some people, particularly of the older generation, who think you should put on a stiff upper lip and get on with it. Never feel ashamed; if you’ve spoken up and seeked help then you should be nothing but proud of yourself. My advice would be to explain to anyone who is like this with you how you are feeling, and do so in a way that is as simple as possible. If someone has no experience of dealing with a loved one who suffers any sort of depression or low moods, it is hard for them to understand. And the vast majority of time you will receive much love and support even if deep down they don’t 100% understand. But this kindness will be enough to help and encourage you. And if anyone around you brings you down or you feel is draining or a negative influence, then take steps to distance yourself from them. Motherhood is a time in your life when your friendships will change and some friends may feel they can’t support you and make no effort in doing so. In my opinion, you don’t need influences like that in your life and taking a step back from them and focusing on those who have a positive impact on your life is far more proactive and will make you far happier in the long run.
I really hope this post is of some help and reassurance, particularly in the sense of pointing out the differences between the blues and post natal depression. As women and mothers, we should all support each other and be able to turn to one another during times of difficulty. And don’t forget your mummy friends; it’s more than likely they’ll feel the same emotions and fears as you particularly at the very beginning so lean on each other and take comfort in knowing you have people to turn to. Reach out to them; they most likely need you as much as you need them!
Here’s to you Mama’s – you got this!