Post natal depression – is it all in the mind?

Perinatal distress (PND) is more common than most people imagine.  Previously known as post-natal depression, it has been renamed recently.  ‘Perinatal’ indicates that these feelings may emerge at any time around the birth of your baby. So it may manifest during pregnancy, shortly after the birth or as long as 18 months later. Recent stats show that up to 85 % of  new mothers experience periods of tearfulness and feelings of despair in the first few weeks after their baby’s birth.  These mood disruptions normally resolve within a few weeks as moms hormones settle down and she gets to know her precious bundle. However, some moms experience prolonged periods of anxiety, helplessness and feelings of despair which is called Perinatal distress (PND). The word “distress” indicates that the feelings a mom may experience are not limited to simply feeling depressed and down in the dumps, but may include feeling overly anxious and distressed about caring for your baby.  Many mothers resist seeking help as they see perinatal distress as a sign of poor parenting skills or declining mental health.  It is important that the symptoms are recognized as soon as possible, so that professional help can be sought. In many instances medication is required, but often a supportive home environment and extensive psychological counseling helps.  Some indicators of perinatal distress may be if you feel:

  • out of control, frustrated and very irritable
  • scared or panicky, anxious and worried, sad or miserable most of the time
  • unable to laugh or to feel joy
  • unable to cope
  • afraid to be alone
  • unusually tearful
  • as tough you are going crazy

Or if you have:

  • difficulty in sleeping
  • no sex drive
  • thoughts about harming yourself or your baby

Calmer babies mean less stressed mothers, and less stressed mothers are able to rear babies better. Encouraging good sleeping habits means being able to understand a baby’s Now it is true that babies can suffer from wind and cramps at times, and will express their discomfort by crying. But we know that one of the main reasons for a fussy baby is related more to how much stimulation the baby gets. An overtired baby of any age will battle with over stimulation and become agitated. So the real secret is to study your baby’s awake times with care.

The book “Baby Sense” – Ann Richardson & Megan Faure: Metz Press; helps you with these guidelines by recommending optimal or maximal awake periods (in between sleeps during the day) for different ages or stages in the baby’s maturation cycle. If one goes beyond these limits, then a whole series of behavioural patterns may kick in, resulting ultimately in irritation and crying. An over-stimulated baby is a tired baby… and ironically, will not fall asleep but become quite disruptive. Some of the behavioural traits that signal the onset of the “over stimulated state” is unrestrained kicking and squirming, lack of eye contact, hiccupping, sneezing, yawning and hand fisting. These signs are often misinterpreted as “colic”.  But this is the time when you need to stop fiddling with your baby (checking nappies, attempting to feed again or bring up a burp), but rather to swaddle your baby, modulate his environment, and help him to become calm by rocking and encouraging non nutritive sucking (dummy or your finger). This will make it easier to put him to bed.

If you feel that you may be suffering from perinatal distress.  Please seek help.  Call the PNDSA helpline on 082 882 0072 or go to www.pndsa.org.za

By Sr Ann Richardson

Sr Ann Richardson is the author of Toddler Sense and also co-authored Baby Sense and Sleep Sense. She is a qualified nurse and midwife and has worked in the midwifery and paediatric fields for 30 years. For more information from Sr Ann Richardson go to www.toddlersense.com or email her at info@toddlersense.co.za