The postnatal period is a challenging time for most families. This is a period of transition, which can lead to a variety of emotions. Hormone surges around day 3-5 can cause what is commonly referred to as ‘the baby blues’. Sometimes these feelings can continue for longer. These symptoms can further manifest in more serious symptoms of depression and anxiety.
This is really common, and thankfully there are services out there to support you in the postpartum period. Most GPs will fast-track parents in the first 12 months to local mental health services. There are lots of medications that are safe to take even when breastfeeding. Many parents rely on these to manage their symptoms.
Sometimes these symptoms manifest as worry, irritation, or rage. Intrusive thoughts about harming the baby by accident or on purpose are also common. Ritualistic behaviours (OCD) and more immediately serious symptoms such as psychosis can be experienced.
This all sounds really scary, but we know that with the right support, mothers are more than capable of safely caring for and nurturing their babies.
Mama needs nurturing too! If you are in a position to support a new mum then do! Take charge of housework, making meals, doing the shopping, doing the washing etc. This can really make an enormous difference to her.
Most mothers don’t want to leave their babies with anyone, and they should never be forced to, but offering to hold the baby whilst she has a quick shower or nap can mean the world to her.
Reassure her that even though things are difficult and her life has changed a lot, that she is doing a really great job. Help her to be responsive to her baby if she's unsure. If she is concerned about breastfeeding, put her in touch with the National Breastfeeding Helpline, to help troubleshoot problems. Emotional support is also available.
Most of all, she especially needs to know that it’s OK for her to feel however she feels about being a new parent. The idea that we have our babies and fall in love with them instantly and live on cloud 9 forever like they do in the movies is often unrealistic. This idea can make parents feel inadequate.
Reassure her that this is a period of difficult transition. It’s OK to mourn the loss of her previous life. It's OK to be worried about this tiny little person all of the time. It's OK to be so full of love for your child that you think you might actually explode. It’s OK if she doesn’t know how she feels yet – and that support is out there if she does need it… Because it’s OK to need support – we all do!