Waney Parnell and Aisha Baker. Picture: Instagram

Lifestyle blogger Aisha Baker was diagnosed with perinatal depression (PND) three months after the birth of her firstborn.

Panic attacks, sleepless nights and bouts of severe depression plagued the weeks following the birth of Baker’s baby boy. Due to the mom-shaming from people online who felt uncomfortable about her sharing the ugly side of motherhood, the 29-year-old held back on opening up until she felt ready.

Turning to her blog, the post published this week documents Baker’s experience. “I had spent days in bed in the dark and lied my way out of work and social commitments saying I felt sick. I did feel sick, but not physically,” she said.

Despite a traumatic birthing experience - she lost a lot of blood and passed out shortly after giving birth - Baker still felt utterly connected and in love with her son. “It was only until I got home from the hospital that the anxiety of being a new mom and having someone’s entire life relying on me being good enough hit me.”

It was a friend who had first suggested that Baker might have PND. “I explained that I couldn’t have it, I was obsessed with my son and I didn’t ever want to leave him. She explained to me that PND was not that simple and I should consider getting help.”

That night, Baker struggled to fall asleep, overcome with anxiety and panic she was unable to calm herself down. “I went into my dads walk-in closet, closed the door and sat on the floor sobbing. I sobbed because I wanted to die and I was confused as to how I would want to die so badly when I love my son and my family so much. I felt selfish for hurting so badly inside.  I sobbed and tried to breathe until my baby woke up for his feed. It could have easily been 4 hours later but I wasn’t aware of the time that had passed. I quickly snapped out of it and went to do what I had to do. It was then that I decided I needed help,” she said.

Baker took this as a sign and decided to seek out a psychologist and psychiatrist for help. She discovered that PND was a little more than not bonding with your baby.

Rakhi Beekrum, a Counselling Psychologist based in Durban explained that perinatal depression is, “A depressive episode that occurs during pregnancy or in the four weeks following delivery. It is believed that in 50% of cases, the depression begins before delivery and may present as severe anxiety or panic attacks.”

Symptoms include

Beekrum said there are a broad range of symptoms, which include, “A depressed mood, sleep disturbances (insomnia or hypersomnia), tearfulness, loss of pleasure in activities previously enjoyed feelings of guilt, loss of energy or fatigue, appetite changes (no appetite or comfort eating) and sometimes even thoughts of death.”

Beekrum’s PND warning signs:

There are some warning signs to look out for if you are pregnant or a new mum or if you suspect a loved one may have PND. It is very normal for a new mum to have what we call the ‘baby blues’. This may start a day or two after delivery and usually lasts for up to two weeks. However, if it seems to continue or worsen beyond this period, it is likely to be depression.

Many mums with postpartum depression are tearful and feel guilty about not enjoying their new role or struggling to bond with their baby. This is very difficult for women to talk about, for the fear of being judged.

Another sign is anhedonia, which is when loses interest in things they previously enjoyed. Difficulty concentrating and making decisions are also often noticeable.

Changes in one’s sleep patterns are another significant sign. While all new mums may struggle with sleep, those with postpartum depression may be unable to fall asleep or may want to sleep excessively.

Signs of severe postpartum depression are thoughts of harming oneself or the baby.

How does one get diagnosed with PND?

Your gynaecologist is often the first person that symptoms are discussed with. “He/she will refer you to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or both. The diagnosis is made following a clinical interview, which examines the symptoms,” said Beekrum.

According to Beekrum, those susceptible to postpartum depression are those with a history of depression, with stressful or difficult pregnancies or with other significant stress (e.g. marital distress) during pregnancy.

When should a woman visit their doctor and what are the treatment options?

Beekrum recommends that if you are unsure, you should visit your gynaecologist immediately, especially if symptoms persist for more than two weeks post delivery. “If you are still pregnant and are experiencing any signs of depression, see a psychologist immediately so the symptoms may be treated to prevent further stress during the pregnancy.”

As for treatment, Beekrum said, “The options are psychotherapy, specifically cognitive behavioural therapy and supportive psychotherapy, couples therapy (as a supportive partner can greatly help improve symptoms through the support they provide) and in some cases, medication. Many women are wary of medication during pregnancy or breastfeeding. A psychiatrist can prescribe medication that is considered to be safe in pregnancy.”