Having a baby is a joyous and memorable event. Yet, after the initial excitement of pregnancy and birth has worn off, many women begin to feel their world falling apart.
First there’s the additional pressure of having a new responsibility. The continous routine of feeding, bathing and changing may leave new mothers frazzled and exhausted. Lack of sleep is the worst, especially if the baby is the type that loves waking up in the night to feed or play.
All these often result in what is the ‘baby blues’, where new mothers feel depressed, isolated and tearful. This is compounded by the hormonal changes caused by delivery and breastfeeding.
The baby blues often resolve after a few weeks when the mother’s hormonal levels stabilise. In some cases, however, the condition progresses into something more alarming: post-natal depression.
BLUES VS DEPRESSION
Although the symptoms are almost similar, post-natal depression is far more drastic and requires medical attention.
“Mothers will feel that everything in their lives has gone wrong. They feel angry and emotional, to the point of wanting to harm the baby or themselves,” says Dr Khairi Rahman, consultant psychologist at the Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur.
The main problem is that most women are not aware it is happening to them, unless it is pointed out by someone or something shocking happens.
Veronica (not her real name) was one such example. “I didn’t know what was wrong with me. My husband was often out of town, and I kept imagining that he was avoiding us or having an affair,” she relates.
Unable to take the depression, one day she carried her 3-month-old baby to the top floor of her condominium, with the intention to throwing the baby down and jumping off herself. As she stood on the ledge, she was startled suddenly by her baby’s crying.
“I got a shock when I realised what was happening. What was I thinking, to take the life of my innocent little boy?” says Veronica, her eyes misting over.
The incident made her realise her symptoms were not normal and that she needed help. She consulted a doctor, who linked her to a parenting group to get her out of her isolation and depression.
MORE COMMON THAN YOU THINK
Even celebrity mums are not spared of post-natal depression, with Hollywood stars such as Brooke Shields, Elle Macpherson, Gail Porter and Donny Osmond publicly sharing their post-natal sufferings to inform women that they’re not alone.
In Brooke Shield’s memoir “Down Came The Rain”, she describes how she harboured thoughts of throwing herself out of the window and banging her baby against the wall.
A 2006 study published in the Medical Journal of Malaysia reports that up to 20% of Malaysia tend to suffer from postpartum depression between 4-6 weeks after delivery.
Dr Khairi lists some warning signs of post-natal depression:
- Irritability and extreme sadness
- Loss of interest in people and events
- Disturbed sleep and appetite
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Lack of energy and inability to function as usual
- Negative thoughts such as excessive self-blame and guilt
- Feeling suicidal or murderous
“Women are afraid to seek treatment because they fear being socially ostracized or are perceived to have a personal weakness. They feel ashamed and feel they should just ‘snap out of it’,” he adds.
“It is important to recognize the symptoms and know that it is treatable with education and support, medication and counseling. Family support and understanding also play a crucial role in order for treatment to be effective,” stresses Dr Khairi.
If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from post-natal depression, offer your love and support, such as taking care of the baby for awhile so that mummy can have some precious time-off. Seek immediate medical attention when there is a possibility that mummy may hurt herself or the baby.