POST NATAL DEPRESSION
Working with new mums on a daily basis I hear very similar stories. Many many mums are worried they are experiencing post natal depression or have been diagnosed as "likely" to be suffering from PND by a well meaning GP or child health nurse.
I need to bring to light the similarities between extreme fatigue and PND. I want new mums to consider the possibility they aren't clinically depressed just because they tick the boxes and relate to the symptoms or diagnosis. It is completely normal to feel like your losing your shit on a daily basis.
When our boys were about 3 months old my husband completed a fatigue management course at work. That afternoon he came home and told me that existing in a state of dangerous extreme fatigue is recognised after 4 consecutive nights of less than 4 hours of sleep.
Okay mamas, hands up who would have killed for 4 hours straight sleep?!
Something clicked for me when I heard this information, duh! No wonder I'm not coping- how can I be?! I've gone for 3 months straight without sleep, sure I've napped in between feeds and cries, but those naps always included at least one baby under my arm- (usually two) and never for longer than 3 hours.
You know those sleeps where you aren't entirely sure you slept? You don't reach that lovely level of unconsciousness, You remain semi alert, hearing cries that may or may not be real and your anxiety escalates at the prospect of being awoken by a screaming baby at any minute.
Yeahhhh those sleeps. They don't count. It's like putting your iPhone next to the charger without plugging it in and expecting it to be 100% in an hour or two.
Like babies we need both REM and NON REM sleep to function, for our physical and mental development. Without meeting our sleep needs we have no hope of functioning at an optimal level.
If you aren't sleeping well then I'm betting you aren't making great food choices and your sure as hell not exercising. Sleep, nutrition and movement are all crucial to happiness and health.
So take away the 3 elements you need for good health and throw in a tiny human (or two or three or four) that you are responsible for, while you're there throw in a possibly traumatic labour, loss of job and voila you've got a whole arsenal of PND symptoms presenting themselves.
You are emotional, lots of tears or maybe no tears and you feel numb all the time. You can't focus, concentrate or remember a damn thing. Your mood is low, appetite is low, everything aches and your eyes burn, headaches are so regular you actually don't notice them anymore,
Irritable is your personality now. You're dizzy and can't focus on the task at hand- what did I come downstairs for?! Hand and eye coordination diminishes and you might as well just place things on the floor to begin with,You question your ability to parent, You may have blurry vision and even hallucinate- these are all FATIGUE symptoms.
The black dog institute lists the following as PND symptoms:
• loss of enjoyment in usual pursuits
• loss of self esteem and confidence
• loss of appetite/weight
• broken sleep irrespective of baby
• sense of hopelessness and being a failure
• panic attacks
• loss of libido
• fears for baby/partners well being
• suicidal thoughts
• a wish not to be alive
I can't help but feel disheartened by these symptoms, most new mothers would relate to over half of these. It's extremely hard to feel enjoyment in usual pursuits when all of a sudden everything you knew and would consider a "usual pursuit" has been taken away and you're living in a land of fatigue, crying and confusion.
Even the most accomplished self assured women are susceptible to a dip in self esteem on a daily basis let alone after delivering a baby!
Hello - you just grew a human. Your body is doing things you've never experienced and some things you never expected. Post baby you are most likely experiencing the mother of all periods, engorged breasts, cracked nipples and stitches in a place you never want stitched. Yes of course it's all worth it but it's not necessarily conducive to a self esteem boost. As for confidence, you have a baby you love more than life itself but you don't bloody know what this baby wants all the time. You expected everything to come naturally and while it does for some there are just as many new mums who it doesn't come immediately too. Your confidence may be shattered by the simple fact you can't remember the all important swaddle technique. This too can create a feeling of hopelessness and failure (another tick on the PND symptom list).
Worrying for your baby and partners well being often comes with the territory of becoming a parent. Very normal to think the worst or create a possible scenario in your poor sleep deprived mind. We all read horror stories, and are bombarded with SIDS information prior and post delivery.
Who doesn't feel a little panicked at the responsibility of a human life? Not just any human life. A tiny, perfect, helpless, completely dependable baby who you would immediately die for. The responsibility and love you feel is overwhelming, all encompassing and terrifying.
Loss of libido? Did you miss the paragraph about the changes experienced post baby. Ain't nothin' sexy bout that.
Without adequate sleep and nutrition it is completely expected to have no interest in sex, after all sex got you into this predicament. Sex post baby is typically something that must be done but not necessarily enjoyed for the first few times. Once you begin sleeping regularly, eating well and feeling good your libido definitely returns, albeit slightly different- your top turn on will now be when your husband deals with the happy explosion or sterilises your pump pieces for you. #nowthatshot
The one that gets me is broken sleep "irrespective of baby", once you have a baby there is no "irrespective of baby" ever again. Everything is respective of baby. Yes baby may be asleep but you can't switch off because you are worried baby will wake, you need to pump, you need to do the chores that can't be ignored like cleaning bottles, washing baby clothes, washing baby spew out of your hair and eating the occasional piece of cold toast.
Suicidal and self harm thoughts that are fleeting can be a direct result of not coping due to hormonal and emotional changes while experiencing extreme levels of fatigue however these need to be recognised and addressed. Do I really want to hurt myself or am I just beyond the point of rational thinking?
If you are having regular self harm thoughts or thoughts of hurting your baby you absolutely need to speak up and ask for help. No two ways about it, do not ignore or silence those thoughts. Seek help immediately.
PND exists and is nothing to be ashamed of. It is not a representation of your love or parenting skills, it is not your fault if you are suffering with this.
I'm not trying to take anything away from those struggling with PND I'm just saying let's not be in a hurry to classify all new mamas as depressed, I whole heartedly believe there needs to be more support and education surrounding fatigue management for new parents and their families. If this article resonates with you, I urge you to take the next step. Just like I did, learn the skills you need to gain sleep and help your baby achieve the rest he or she needs. You are not a bad mother at all, you're just a tired one.