Something strange happened to me this afternoon. Mia had just fallen asleep, the household help had come, attended to the chores and gone, and I found myself all alone, with nothing to do. And just like that, tears started rolling down my eyes. Slowly at first and then in a giant torrent. They just wouldn’t stop. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I kept thinking about my life before pregnancy and how I would never get it back. I felt sorry for myself. And for the mess I was in. And it made me cry even louder. Almost an hour passed before I was able to control my anguish. Even as I think about it now, I feel ashamed of my outburst. I wonder what had come over me.
First of all, it is important to distinguish between baby blues and post-partum depression (PPD). Almost all new mothers go through a phase where they feel overwhelmed by what is happening to and around them. It will leave them feeling anxious, miserable and wanting to break down. These are the baby blues and will usually last a couple of weeks. Post-partum depression is real depression involving an inability to get out of the blue funk in which new mothers may find themselves and it requires professional help. Research suggests that 10 – 15 per cent of new mothers may face post-partum depression. Though serious, the condition is definitely treatable.
What you need to know:
PPD may vary in intensity. Some mothers may suffer from a milder version while others may get completely bogged down by it. New mothers — especially those with schizophrenic or bipolar tendencies — may also be prone to a post-partum psychosis which could possibly drive them to harm themselves or others.
- Some believe that hormonal changes are at the root of PPD. Others posit that external factors, such as social pressure to get back to normal as quickly as possible and the lack of helping hands in modern nuclear families to bring up the baby, are more to be blamed.
- Typical symptoms include weeping, sleeplessness, overeating or an inability to eat; inability to concentrate; needless anxiety about the baby’s health; lack of interest in the baby; being exhausted all the time; feeling sad, hopeless, miserable, frustrated, angry and agitated; getting nightmares and wanting to be or fearing to be alone.
- PPD can affect any mother. In some cases, it may make its presence felt during the pregnancy itself. In others, it may show itself a couple of weeks after the delivery rather than immediately after.
- Most mothers may not realise that they are suffering from PPD.
- Treatment for PPD could include counselling and, in a few cases, medication. Making positive lifestyle changes too will help.
How to deal with it:
- Cut yourself some slack. There is no such thing as a perfect mother and you shouldn’t aspire to become one. Setting high standards is stress-inducing and makes you prone to depression when you fail to live up to them.
- I have said this before and I will say it again — use all the help you can get. There is no heroism in trying to do everything alone. Hire extra help, delegate chores, get your family members to pitch in with the baby and split night watches with your partner. This will contribute to a more peaceful frame of mind.
- I know someone who has a little trick for when she is feeling down. She puts on her brightest lipstick and suddenly the world is a better place. Be like her — put on your best outfit; get your stylist to give you a trendy haircut at home; splash on your favourite perfume; and wear your favourite makeup. It makes a world of a difference, trust me!
- Some me-time is essential. Get out of the house once in a while. Shop. Or window-shop. Go to your favourite restaurant. Or catch a movie. Meet up with friends. Or plan a clandestine date with your partner. If you feel guilty about leaving your baby in someone else’s care, remind yourself that it is for your — and by extension your baby’s — benefit.
- Put on your sweats and get moving. Nothing like happy endorphins to bust those blues!
- Eat. Low blood sugar may be one reason why you are feeling down in the dumps. A good mood may be just a healthy snack away.
- Don’t be afraid to show your emotions. If you feel like having a good cry, have one. You will feel better afterwards. If you’ve been grumpy all day, tune into your favourite sitcom and laugh out loud with the characters. If something is preying on your mind, confide in your partner. Or, as I have said before, vent it all out in your diary.
- Having said all this, if the symptoms persist for more than a couple of weeks, seek professional help.
(Excerpted from Post Baby Bounce by Namita Jain; Published by Harper Collins; Price: Rs 250)
By arrangements with Women’s Feature Service