When Gwyneth Paltrow recently admitted suffering from post-natal depression (PND), it no doubt struck a chord with 70,000 British women who have similar struggles every year.
“I couldn’t connect to anyone,” the 39-year-old said. “I felt like a zombie and very detached. I just didn’t know what was wrong with me. We think that it makes us bad mothers.”
She credits her husband, Coldplay singer Chris Martin, for urging her to get help - and doctors agree that supportive partners are as key to recovery as medical treatment.
Friends star Courteney Cox, 47, actress Sadie Frost, 46, and model Elle Macpherson, 48, also recently admitted to feeling the same. While most new mothers experience mood swings - dubbed “baby blues” - PND is a serious diagnosable mental illness that, in severe cases, can have catastrophic consequences. Here, experts give their advice on how to beat the illness.
KNOW YOUR HISTORY
Like many depressive illnesses, a small percentage of PND cases are thought to be hereditary, according to Professor Louise Howard, consultant perinatal psychologist at Kings College London, South London and Maudsley NHS Trust.
“The clearest predictor of PND is if a woman has any previous history of depression, and whether there’s a history of depression or PND in her family,” she says. “Other factors such as a traumatic birth are also thought to contribute to a woman’s likelihood to develop PND.”
If there’s a risk, the GP or midwife should be made aware.
BABY BLUES OR PND?
The baby blues are almost universal after birth, and usually mean feeling tearful and emotional, but don’t last more than a few weeks. This is due to fluctuating hormone levels. “Those feelings will generally be mixed in with euphoria at having had a child, too,” adds Prof Howard. “Most women will feel emotional at this time, and very tired dealing with a newborn.
“By contrast, PND is usually accompanied by guilty or depressive and irrational thoughts or behaviour, persistent low mood lasting at least two weeks and an inability to enjoy anything.
“There’s an assumption that PND is caused by hormones but the evidence isn’t conclusive and for a third of women, symptoms start during pregnancy. Whether they occur during or after pregnancy, talk to your GP or midwife straight away.”
REDUCING THE RISK
“Accept offers of help and don’t feel guilty about doing so,” says Prof Howard. “Whether that’s family and friends offering to cook meals, or watch baby while you have a bit of time to yourself, it will help to keep your emotions in balance.”
Experts also recommend getting a structure to your day as soon as possible after the birth to give a sense of control. “And if you need sleep, then you must get it when you can,” adds Prof Howard. “Talk to your partner and get him to help create time when you can do things you enjoy that don’t involve your baby.”
WHEN TO ASK FOR HELP
“If PND is disturbing your life to a degree that you can’t function normally, seek urgent professional help,” says Diane Nehme of the Association for Post-Natal Illness (APNI). “A combination of psychological therapy plus antidepressant or hormone-balancing drugs may be prescribed.” Severe cases of PND are rare, with only one or two women in every 1,000 being admitted to hospital.
There is evidence from studies by Kings College, London, and the University of Bristol that psychological therapy is helpful in treating moderate PND, says Prof Howard.
According to Elaine Hanzak, trustee of the Joanne Bingley Memorial Foundation, post-natal support is crucial in preventing and overcoming PND. “Ante-natal classes are commonplace but there’s so much focus on the birth but little regard for the pressures and emotions a woman experience afterwards,” she says.
CAN YOU GET PND TWICE?
There are no precise figures for recurrence for PND but you’re more at risk of having PND if you’ve had it before, according to Nehme. “If you had PND previously, your GP may suggest counselling or offer you an antidepressant during the latter stages of pregnancy and weeks after the birth,” she says. Hanzak adds: “PND isn’t your fault, you’re not alone and it will get better if you take proactive steps to tackle it.” - Daily Mail
* The Post Natal Depression Support Association in South Africa: http://www.pndsa.org.za