I was diagnosed with postpartum depression when my son was four months old. When I went to a doctor’s appointment after hitting a low point, it was because realised I was crying almost every time the baby cried. I told her I needed help.
She didn’t tell me I was a bad parent. Or that I was doing it wrong, or that everyone feels like this. Instead, she told me it would be okay. This wasn’t how it was going to feel forever. And that she would help me to get through this. Seven years on, there are a few things that I feel in hindsight I would have appreciated knowing about postpartum depression.
How common it is during pregnancy and the first year Postpartum
Up to 20% of women experience mental health problems. This includes perinatal and postpartum depression, during pregnancy or within the first 12 months after birth. Symptoms of postpartum depression can take time to develop, normally showing up most obviously 4-6 months after the baby is born. With 1 in 5 women suffering from mental health during the postpartum period, you are far from alone, and it can happen to anyone.
It Might Not Be Obvious To You
Postpartum depression doesn’t always present in the way you’d expect. It doesn’t always present as a sadness (although it can). Instead, it can seem like you’re extra irritable or impatient, or feeling very anxious or guilty about what you’re doing as a mum. You might experience loss of appetite or the feeling of exhaustion all the time (even more than usual as a new parent!). You may feel like you’re worried about how the baby is doing or feeling like you’re not doing a good job. While some of these are normal in small amounts, they can mean something more is going on if they continue for a period of time.
The Intrusive Thoughts Are Normal
For me, scary thoughts of something happening to my baby, or wanting to do something to my baby, would enter my head at random points. They terrified me, even though I was sure I wasn’t wanting to hurt my baby. Logically, I knew that he was okay. But I worried that it made me a bad mother for even thinking of such things. Having a new baby is a high-stress time for a lot of people – especially with everything else going on in the world. Intrusive negative thoughts are linked to periods of high stress. However, if they are recurring and you find them to be interfering with your life, it is definitely worth putting them past your GP. They won’t think any less of you, but they will make sure that you are okay.
Nobody will think you’re a bad mother because you have depression – and it does pass
Given how common postpartum depression is, we really do need to speak more about it. We need to normalise it as something that happens to women and isn’t a reflection on their parenting. The majority of cases pass within 12-18 months. You are not more likely to suffer from PPD again on a subsequent pregnancy just because you’ve had it before. The important thing is to get help if you need it. Take whatever help is offered. And to know that you are not alone.
Help is available from Postnatal Depression Ireland or the HSE.