Health & Wellness Child Developement
Dealing with Postnatal depression
Some statistics say that approximately 80% of women go through the baby blues. Having a baby is a life transition and it may cause a number of emotional upheavals, but when they affect normal day-to-day functioning or interfere with the well being of the mother and child or last more than 10 days, there is cause to be worried. Dr Tan Hwee Sim, (Specialist, Psychiatry & Consultant, Raffles Counselling Centre) says almost 1 in 14* mothers in Singapore are thought to be at risk for moderate to severe depression. In some very rare cases, the father of a newborn may also be affected.
What causes Post Natal Depression?
A change in certain hormone levels, the emotional upheaval of having a child and genetics are thought to be probable causes. Those who have had a difficult pregnancy or childbirth or have a family/ personal history of depression or are getting poor support from the family or partner are usually more at risk than others.
Post Natal Depression: What to look out for?
Prolonged periods of crying, severe mood swings, insomnia, thoughts of self-harm, lack of appetite, crippling anxiety, numbness, feeling of hopelessness or helplessness and inadequacy, constant exhaustion, guilt or shame, problems bonding with the baby, inability to breastfeed, diminished ability to think clearly are all symptoms that may point to post-natal depression.
How important is early psychiatric intervention?
Untreated postnatal depression could lead to adverse consequences affecting the mother, the child, and the family. It may disrupt the bonding process between the mother and the newborn, thus affecting the child's intellectual and emotional development. It may affect the mothers ability to care for the child, and even subsequent social and occupational functioning such as the ability to return to the workforce. It may also lead to marital discord. Untreated postnatal depression may develop into depressive psychosis resulting in increased risk of suicide and infanticide. Hence the importance of recognising and treating postnatal depression early and adequately. The earlier the woman is given help, the better the outcome. -Dr Tan Hwee Sim
Medical help for postnatal depression
Most public hospitals in Singapore (Including KKH & NUH) have a screening procedure for new mothers that identifies at risk patients. They use a standardised test to identify and intervene with a psychiatric consultation. Remember that postpartum depression can manifest anytime from a few days after delivery to one year after the birth of the child. So it is best to approach the doctor if you feel the onset of any these debilitating symptoms.
What happens if diagnosed with post natal depression?
Once diagnosed, low to moderate depression may be treated with counselling. For severe postnatal depression, anti-anxiety medication or anti-depressants may be prescribed. If you are taking anti-depressants at the same time as breastfeeding, discuss with the psychiatrist how to minimise risk to the baby.
What can affected mothers do?
- Make sure you find a health care professional that you are comfortable with.
- Accept help, whether it is with the house, the baby or any other work.
- Eat healthy and try to eat balanced meals at regular intervals.
- Exercise produces serotonin- a mood enhancer, so does sunlight. Try to fit in some exercise even if it is just a short morning walk.
- Don't isolate yourself Try Mother and Baby activity groups or forums. Meet other mothers.
- Treat yourself to a break once in a while. An hour or so away from the baby can do wonders.
- Be flexible and realistic about what you can achieve.
How can family & friends help in case of post natal depression?
- Watch out for possible symptoms and get her medical help if present.
- Help with the newborn or around the house whenever possible.
- Do not be judgemental or wonder why she doesn't snap out of it.
- Accept that it is a valid medical condition that needs to be treated.
Having a child is most often a very happy occasion, but some mothers may be overwhelmed by the mental and physical toll it takes on the body. Though the causes of postpartum depression are vague, the symptoms and the suffering is real. It is important to recognise the symptoms and to seek help, so both mom and baby can have a happy and healthy first year of togetherness.
*Chee CYI, Lee DTS, Chong YS,Tan LK, Ng TP, Fones CSL. Confinement and other psychosocial factors in perinatal depression: a transcultural study in Singapore. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2005;89(13):157166)
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