Irish mums on Post Natal Depression: 'When my toddler came to me with tissues I realised I really needed help'
Pregnancy and birth can be a roller coaster ride, hormonally speaking. In some cases new mums can suffer from Post Natal Depression (PND) and need a bit of extra help.
When the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to Princess Charlotte earlier this month, she must have felt completely elated.
In the first few days she may have felt emotional as the 'baby blues' kicked in, but according to the latest research, 15pc of women suffer from a far more serious condition, namely postnatal depression.
And because giving birth creates such a whirlwind of emotion as hormones go into overdrive, PND is often overlooked until it gets to a serious stage.
We spoke to experts and a mother to find out how the condition affects women and what can be done to alleviate symptoms.
Becky, right, is married to Peter and has two daughters, Trinity (3) and Saoirse (15 months). She is a Gentlebirth instructor (www.junoandthemidwife.com ) and says while she felt great after the birth of her second daughter, it wasn't until months later that the symptoms of PND became apparent.
"I felt amazing after Saoirse was born, apart from the usual baby blues with the hormonal dip, but nothing concerning. The low didn't hit until about four months later and it really took me by surprise. I didn't think postnatal depression could happen to me. When it did, it absolutely floored me.
"I had everything I wanted and planned for but felt so hopeless, tearful and drowning in a deep sea of sadness, at first I put it down to the regular adjustment from one to two babies. I'd heard it was tough work so assumed I just wasn't coping well.
"My husband was the one who planted the seed that this might be something much bigger than me. He suggested we speak to a professional after I began crying in the mornings at the thoughts of him going to work.
"I'm a GentleBirth Instructor, I teach Mindfulness, CBT and Positive Self-Talk for a living.
"This behaviour was worlds apart from who I am. I felt as though staying at home during the day was unbearable but getting out of the house was impossible.
"Everything was much more difficult and I seemed to be carrying a dead weight that exceeded my strength when trying to complete the simplest tasks.
"When my toddler came to me with tissues, as I sat in a ball on the floor once again, for the fifth time that day, with the intention to dry my tears, at the innocent age of 2 1/2, I realised I really needed help.
"I went to my local GP and told her the hopelessness I was feeling, that I just didn't have the want or desire to get through another day.
"I didn't want to commit suicide, even that seemed like too much effort and when the thoughts came - which they did - I wondered what was the point of trying as I probably couldn't even do that right.
"She gave me a tissue, proscribed me Prozac and Xanax and told me to come back in a month. But I'm quite a pro-active person and very much a geek when it comes to evidence-based practices.
"I knew that medication could help but I wanted to be sure I was doing everything possible to help myself. I started to work out six days a week for one hour at a time with my brother at Fighting Fit, Dundalk.
"Endorphins really helped the darkest days. I changed my diet to cut out as much refined sugar as possible to prevent sugar crashes and upped my Mindfulness sessions. I started writing positive affirmations again and practising positive self-talk. Some days the only positive thing I had to say about myself to myself was that I got dressed today and I am loved.
"About a month after I began medication I started counselling with a fabulous counsellor from Nurture called Linda Reynolds.
"She reminded me of all of the tools I teach my GentleBirth clients and it was very easy to incorporate those into my life.
"The Xanax was horrendous. I felt spacey, out of control and very silly. It scared me more than the depression and so I chose not to take it again. The Prozac helped.
"The thick dark fog lifted to a light grey cloud within a few weeks. Was it the drugs? Was it everything else? I don't know, I reckon it was a decent balance of everything but breathing became easy again, my feet didn't feel so heavy on the floor, the tears stopped streaming so easily and I began to enjoy being alive again.
"About four months after I started taking the medication I felt safe again. I wasn't afraid to be alone.
"I had a rock solid support network, my husband, my mother-in-law, my family, my beautiful friends Heather and Melissa, and a very precious secret group on Facebook with women who were going through the same thing, supporting one another and journeying together. I decided to slowly wean off the meds with the willingness to begin again if I needed to.
"It's been seven months since I took any medications for depression. I practise Mindfulness every day, I still write my positive affirmations every Sunday but I've slacked a little on the exercise.
"Depression is an illness, it can happen to anyone. Most people can and do recover with the right support, unconditional love and encouragement."
Louise Ní Chríodáin
Louise, below, a mother of two, has co-authored eBook 'From Bump to Birth' with midwife Margaret Hanahoe. She says many women, and their carers, can overlook the importance of emotional well-being for mothers-to-be and new mums.
"We were very mindful of including reassurances and advice for women on mental health issues in our eBook.
"We had surveyed mums for feedback and advice on their own pregnancies and experiences with newborns and were surprised by how many of them talked about the emotional difficulties they had encountered both before and after birth.
"Pregnancy itself can be an emotional roller-coaster. The huge changes in hormone levels can trigger dramatic swings in your moods.
"In the first few months in particular you will notice that your mood can change in minutes, even seconds, from extreme happiness to tears of frustration, from anger to elation. You cannot predict it.
"You cannot control it. So don't be surprised to find yourself crying without explanation - even when you are feeling happy. In our survey we asked what people enjoyed least about their partners' pregnancies and the two words mentioned most by the dads we surveyed were 'mood swings'.
"However, the good news is that once the placenta takes over the production of pregnancy hormones in the second trimester, your hormone levels should start to even out, resulting in you feeling more relaxed and positive. If you are lucky those 'happy hormones' will stay with you for the remainder of the pregnancy."
Midwife Margaret, Assistant Directory of Midwifery at the National Maternity Hospital has co-authored eBook 'From Bump to Birth' with Louise, and says most women will go through emotional turmoil after the birth of their baby and while some feelings are perfectly normal it's good to know when to seek advice.
"Most women will experience some form of the 'baby blues'. You may feel weepy, hypersensitive, anxious, irritable and confused.
"Your thoughts may race, and you may even be mildly elated. These feelings will usually pass within days, or at the most a couple of weeks. However, if they get progressively worse, last longer or return, then you need to seek help. You may be one of the 10-12pc of women who go on to develop postnatal depression.
Postnatal depression usually begins two to three weeks following the birth but can sometimes appear many months later. If left untreated it can last for years, with detrimental consequences for you and all your relationships so it is important that you tell your obstetrician, community midwife, GP or public health nurse about any mental health concerns you have.
The eBooks 'From Bump to Birth' and 'After Birth' are available from Amazon
PND can go undiagnosed because almost all new mothers experience its initial symptoms - sleep disturbance, tiredness, anxiety and insecurity. If you're not happy that you are being taken seriously, seek help elsewhere. The warning signs include:
• Persistent low mood or constant elation;
• Deep despondency;
• Feelings of total inadequacy;
• Exhausted but unable to sleep, even when baby is;
• Poor appetite or excessive comfort-eating;
• Feelings of hopelessness;
• Excessive anxiety about your baby;
• Suicidal thoughts.
Remember it is not abnormal to feel:
• Overwhelmed by responsibility
• Confused about your feelings
Help is available from Postnatal Depression Ireland, www.pnd.ie and Aware, www.aware.ie. The charity Nurture is also doing great work by providing professional phone counselling and other services for women who need mental health support both during and after pregnancy www.nurturecharity.org/