Having a child is meant to be one of the happiest chapters in a woman’s life and most women will naturally feel a strong maternal bond with their child. However, some women may find it hard to connect or have anything to do with their child as a result of post-natal depression (PND).
The scary thing about PND, which affects about 10 to 15 per cent of women, is that you can’t really prevent it from happening, as it is largely caused by a change in the hormone levels of a woman.
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Take Diana*, for example. Initially, she was certain that she would be able to manage things well with her baby as she was living with her parents and could count on their experience. And she wasn’t wrong. Chores such as changing nappies, sterilising milk bottles and making milk became part of a routine that she enjoyed.
However, things changed after a month. She started losing sleep and appetite, and would turn a deaf ear to her baby’s cries. The maternal love seemed to be slipping away and that was when she realised she might be suffering from PND. She says: “I no longer wanted to have my baby. The new role [felt like it] was just too much for me.”
Aside from hormonal changes, a change in lifestyle due to parenthood; complications during childbirth; lack of social support; marital discord; and lack of sleep all contribute towards PND, says Dr Cornelia Chee, senior consultant psychiatrist and programme director, Women’s Emotional Health Service, National University Hospital.
The most obvious sign of PND is feeling overwhelmed. Dr Chee says that mothers with PND are usually in low spirits, have low energy levels, show anxiety and find it hard to enjoy anything. They also develop guilt for not coping very well and this often turns to self-blame. In some cases, they might display problems with memory and concentration.
Suzie* was constantly full of anxiety after the birth of her first child. Once, her husband Nathan* woke up and found her pacing around the living room in circles. “She was very anxious about not being able to look after her baby, and she couldn’t find her way back into the room,” he says. “Looking back, my wife knew she wasn’t her normal self. However, she didn’t realise she was going through (depression), she only knew she had all this fear and anxiety gripping her.”
It’s important to note that PND is different from ‘post-natal blues’, although they share similarities. According to Dr Chee, the latter occurs in 50 to 70 per cent of mothers, and the affected mother will feel anxious, be unable to sleep well and cry easily. However, it only lasts for 10 to 14 days. If such symptoms do persist beyond 14 days, then it could possibly be PND.
Is there a cure?
The good news is that PND can be treated, and both Diana and Suzie have recovered. Depending on the severity of the PND, different treatment methods are used.
For those suffering from mild-to-moderate depression, they will be taught how to protect their sleeping time, and to make time for exercise and couple time. On many occasions, PND is made worse by sleep deprivation. Most mothers may initially handle looking after their baby full time and being woken many times during the night but it eventually takes a toll on them.
If the mother has had depression in the past or has very poor social support, treatment via counselling or psychotherapy will be recommended. For moderate-to-severe depression, antidepressants are prescribed to manage the condition, says Dr Chee.
The importance of husbands
Other than external help, PND patients tend to recover faster when there is strong partner support. Coping with mood disorders alone is extremely difficult and having an understanding partner who provides emotional comfort and physical involvement helps the mother tremendously.
Support should be both emotional and physical. Husbands should encourage and reassure their wives that they are doing well, as well as offer to care for the baby where possible to give the mother a chance to rest or even go out and not be cooped up at home.
PND aside, transitioning into parenthood is tough, and the challenges and frustrations that come with it are very real.
Jayme Shing, a mummy blogger, says that breastfeeding her child was the biggest hurdle: “I wanted to exclusively breastfeed my baby but I didn’t have that kind of supply. With everyone being so open these days about breastfeeding and not wanting to give supplements or formula milk to their babies, it’s just even more pressure.”
For lead singer of SIXX Aarika Lee, she learnt that she wasn’t able to do everything: “Babies are very unpredictable. I realised that I couldn’t do everything on my own and learnt to lean on the people around me who loved and cared for my baby as much as I did. It’s not that I didn’t want help, but rather that I always try to do everything by myself before I seek help… I thought I could do it all, but the truth is everyone needs to have a huge support system in order to be a good, rested and patient mum who can provide.”
If you are a mother, reach out and get help, and remember that everyone faces motherhood challenges, and you are not alone. For those who know of new mothers, extend a lending hand and give them support – it will be much appreciated.
To help mothers realise that they are not alone and to raise awareness about the emotional and mental support mothers need, a group of undergraduates from Nanyang Technological University started the Joyful Beginnings campaign, where they encouraged mothers to share the difficulties they initially faced when caring for children. As part of their campaign, they invited fathers to share about how their transition into parenthood was like and record a thank you message to their wives.
Watch what happens when young dads were invited to talk about their transition to parenthood and to record a thank-you message for their wives at the SuperMom Baby Fair.
While becoming a parent may be challenging, don’t forget to take some time out to tell your loved ones how much you appreciate them!
Music Credits: <Terrible Twos> and <Part II> by Vivien Yap
Video Credits: 555 Pictures
Posted by Joyful Beginnings on Tuesday, February 28, 2017
*Names have been changed.
To learn more about how to maintain your mental well-being during the post-natal period, click here to view the Post-natal Mental Wellness booklet, an initiative produced in collaboration with KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and National University Hospital.
Joyful Beginnings is a health communications campaign by four final-year students from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University. This campaign aims to raise awareness about PND among young parents in Singapore, and the importance of supporting the mental wellness of mothers.