Childbirth is a life-changing experience and adjusting to motherhood can be difficult. Some women are prone to depression as they come to terms with the demands of caring for a new baby. For most, the symptoms are mild; however, some develop a more disabling condition known as postnatal depression (PND). Dr. Wei Chang, a psychologist from the Family Counseling Center at Beijing United Family Hospital (BJU), offers her advice for moms who are suffering from PND.
What are the baby blues?
More than half of new mothers will suffer baby blues in the days and weeks after giving birth, with relatively mild symptoms, like mood swings, anxiety, unexplained sadness and irritability. Symptoms generally fade within three weeks.
What is postnatal depression?
The difference between baby blues and true PND is the duration and severity of symptoms. PND symptoms are more complicated, intense and longer lasting. One in eight mothers suffers from PND and symptoms generally appear within three to six weeks of birth. They suffer from extreme exhaustion and often feel overwhelmed, helpless and incompetent as a mother – they also feel guilty for having these feelings. The mom may have difficulty bonding with her baby, distancing herself and not wanting to feed or hold her child. Some women isolate themselves, refusing assistance. Others have suicidal thoughts.
What if it gets worse?
The most serious condition is postnatal psychosis, with symptoms like confusion, disorientation, paranoia, delusion, hallucination and attempts to harm [yourself]or the baby. Psychiatric treatment is crucial for these patients.
What causes PND?
There are three main causes of PND: hormonal changes following pregnancy, emotional changes heightened by a lack of sleep, and lifestyle changes caused by adjusting to life with a newborn.
Am I at risk of PND?
Women with a personal or family history of depression are at greatest risk of developing PPD, as well as those who had unplanned pregnancies, disappointment about the baby’s gender or a previous diagnosis of the condition.
Are treatments available?
Counseling is a good treatment option. Psychological support can be useful in helping new mothers cope with the stress of a new baby. If symptoms persist, medication may be needed.
Can PND be prevented?
As a mother, it is crucial to be kind to yourself. Be sure to eat well, exercise and take sufficient rest. Remember that you need to take good care of yourself in order to do a good job of taking care of others. It is wonderful to talk to other women who are in similar situations. Many informal support groups evolve from prenatal classes so be sure to keep in touch. Talk to your doctor or a counselor before giving birth if you think you may be at risk of developing postpartum depression.
Is there something wrong with me?
It’s crucial for women to recognise that PND is not a character flaw or a personal weakness; rather, it is a real, physical condition. It’s important to treat depression as it occurs rather than suffer in silence. Interestingly, women who seek treatment for depression later in life often trace their first symptoms back to the period of time after giving birth.
Should I seek help?
Talk to a doctor or counselor if symptoms of the baby blues don’t fade within two weeks. At this point, ringing your mom is not enough. Seek help immediately if you have any thought of suicide or harming your baby.
• Family Counseling Center, Beijing United Family Hospital (5927 7067) www.unitedfamilyhospitals.com
• SOS International (6462 9112) www.internationalsos.com
• Bayley & Jackson Medical Center (8562 9998) www.bjhealthcare.com
• International Medical Center (6465 1561) www.imcclinics.com
• Beijing International Christian Fellowship (8454 3468 ext 204, 136 5133 9425) www.bicf.org
• Postpartum Support International
• Online Postpartum Depression Support Group
• The Association for Post-Natal Illness UK
• Post-Natal Illness Support UK
Tips to Beat the Baby Blues
• Eat well, rest and exercise
• Build a support network and stay in contact with other moms
• Find a baby group or start your own
• Join an online parenting forum from your own country and "chat" in your native language
• Attend La Leche League meetings www.llli.org
• Sign up for activities with your baby, try Circle of the Sun or mommy and baby yoga classes
• Attend the Beijing Women’s Support Group. Contact Magda (1380 100 9830, firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information
• Beijing-based naturopath Melissa Rodriguez recommends moms take fish oil supplements, as well as B and D vitamins
For me, PND was like a tumor that filled my body and infected my soul. I was exhausted and overcome by wretched feelings of failure and hopelessness. I hid my feelings from all but my family, but even they didn’t know the depth of my despair. I still looked after both children but I knew that I was becoming increasingly incapable of coping with life. Ironically, it was while I was lying about how fine I felt to the pediatrician that I realised just how far things had gone.
I was prepared to let myself and my family suffer for fear of being branded a bad mother. I was deliberately avoiding medical help and it was at this point I realised how badly I needed it. I visited my doctor the next week, started taking medication and also visited a counselor for two months. It was an enormous relief and I am now fine.
If I could offer any advice, it would be to speak to your doctor. Take the first step for the sake of your sanity, your marriage and your children.
I had the baby blues for a couple of weeks when my first baby was born back home. Second time round, and now in Beijing, it was much worse. My mum wasn’t nearby and my older child was not happy about having a sibling. My husband was always travelling and all my friends had left for the summer. I felt unsupported, undervalued and alone. I missed the sort of resources that are widely and freely available in Australia, such as community nurses, parenting education services and community groups for mums. All these things really affected my confidence.
I recommend speaking to a lactation consultant and seeking out other pregnant women before the baby is born. Go to that lunch after prenatal yoga and sign up for that birthing class. Join a mums and bubs group soon after baby is born (or start your own). And take the time to find a pediatrician you like. I’m now pregnant with our third baby and really feel that friendship and support are the keys to overcoming some of the challenges of having a baby away from home.
Names have been changed to protect the mothers’ identities