Clinical Psychologist Dr Shireen Saluja shares her expertise on the taboo topic that many mothers experience.
What are the most common issues that mothers face post-pregnancy?
The most common problems are body issues, lack of sleep, feelings of failure, feeling disconnected from your child, sexual interest, and relationship issues.
Postnatal depression can look different for every mother.
What are the symptoms of postnatal depression?
Postnatal depression can look different for every mother. However, below is the NHS guidelines for the things to look out for. If you feel you have some of these symptoms, but not all, it’s okay to still talk to your GP and seek help.
- A persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
- Loss of interest in the world around you and no longer enjoying things that used to give you pleasure
- Lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
- Trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day
- Feeling that you’re unable to look after your baby
- Problems concentrating and making decisions
- Loss of appetite or an increased appetite (comfort eating)
- Feeling agitated, irritable or apathetic (you “can’t be bothered”)
- Feelings of guilt, hopelessness and self-blame
- Difficulty bonding with your baby with a feeling of indifference and no sense of enjoyment in their company
- Frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your baby; these can be scary, but they’re very rarely acted upon
- Thinking about suicide and self-harm
How do you know if you are suffering from postnatal depression and not just the ‘baby blues’?
This can be a difficult one, but an important question. Often after having a baby we are tired and overwhelmed. We do not have the ability to concentrate on tasks and can feel low in mood. However, if you’re suffering from PND you may have depressive thoughts and symptoms that usually last longer than two weeks. You may find it difficult to motivate yourself or connect to your baby. You may even feel like you’re worthless and hopeless. It is best to talk to your GP for onward referral for support.
The first few weeks of being a mother is full of sad, happy, difficult and sleepy moments, but low self-worth and hopelessness usually will not be present. Also, if these feelings are carrying on for more than 2-3 weeks there may be a good chance you’re suffering from PND rather than baby blues.
What online resources are available for mums with postnatal depression?
I would recommend speaking to your GP first. Discussing your thoughts, feelings, and concerns is helpful. You can also turn to support groups online (links below). Don’t suffer in silence.
What coping strategies would you recommend for new mums dealing with postnatal depression?
Take time for yourself. Maybe go get your nails done, get some sleep, take a long shower. If possible, have someone look after the baby for a few hours.
Get a carry out for dinner and leave the cleaning for later. Give yourself space to be compassionate towards yourself. A compassionate mum is a healthy mum.
How can people support a loved one who is suffering from postnatal depression?
Cook them a meal, babysit so they can get some sleep, discuss mental health, and getting support. Go with them to the doctor.
Please do not say you know how they feel and it’s difficult for all new mums. Their experience is unique. Give them space to adjust to their new life. Aside from the hormone changes, it’s a new lifestyle.
Finally, just listen and let them vent. Do not try to find answers for them. Us mums just need to be heard and sometimes have a wobble. LISTEN!
How important is physical activity?
Physical activity is important, but not always possible with a newborn. I would advise making it a fun thing to do with your child. Maybe go for a walk, even if it’s cold, and wrap up warmly.
Getting air really makes a difference. When you are allowed to work out again maybe after six weeks or so post-birth go for walks alone if you can. Join a gym or do some physical activity at home. This increases endorphins, which helps manage mood.
Is it common for women to feel heightened anxiety after giving birth?
YES!!! I remember giving birth and feeling anxious I was getting it all wrong. I felt this in both my pregnancies and post. I felt so much guilt and fear. This is completely normal and no one ever talks about this. Everyone gets anxious to some level, but working on your anxiety and recognising it is key. There is NOTHING wrong in saying I am anxious and scared.
Do you have any tips to tackle anxiety?
Take many breaks in the day for yourself. Do some yoga or meditation if you can. There is a wonderful app I use with my patients called CALM. Another great tool is journaling. Being able to get everything in your head on paper helps process anxious thoughts better.
Do NOT compare yourself to other mums.
How would you suggest mothers combat stress?
Take breaks. If your child is napping, try to rest. If you feel overwhelmed, talk to someone. Go for walks, eat yummy food, get a post-pregnancy massage, binge watch silly TV, meet people for coffee, have a cry, go to bed early, and finally, speak to a medical professional if everything gets too much.
What is the most common mistake you see mums making?
Doing too much at the cost of their own health. Give yourself a break.
Do NOT compare yourself to other mums. Everyone is on their own motherhood journey. You will know what is right for you and your child. Find your place and do NOT believe everything you see on social media.
What is your number one piece of advice for new mothers?
Let other people help you.
You do NOT need to do everything yourself.
Finally, enjoy your journey. No one is born a mother, we become mothers. Each day, month, and year you will see yourself become more confident. Good luck and congratulations.
Below are some online support groups that may help:
Dr Shireen Saluja, Chartered Clinical Psychologist
T: 02077179022 or firstname.lastname@example.org
*£10 off the first session when you mention Emma James.