As a new mother, it’s natural to worry about the future and be challenged by certain questions. Can I raise a healthy and happy child? How will I know if my parenting approach is right or wrong? Who will help me on this journey? How can I care for a tiny person if I’m struggling to take care of myself?
Hormonal changes can trigger a range of emotions after the arrival of a new baby.
Having doubts is normal, but in extreme cases repeatedly negative thought patterns might indicate post-natal depression or anxiety. In fact, fresh research from a team of international neuroscientists has recently revealed that post-natal depression may be even more distinct from other mood disorders than first thought.
Post-natal depression is notably different from other mood disorders
The Trends in Neurosciences journal reports that certain neural activities occurring in women with post-natal depression are recognisably different to the neutral activities of people living with other forms of depression.
Specifically, the brain matter that controls emotional regulation is less activated in women living with post-natal depression. This means depressed mothers are less likely to respond to emotional cues, even when compared to other people living with depression.
Changes in neural activity may also mean that mothers with post-natal depression will struggle to connect with their newborn baby. In fact according to the report’s authors, depressed mothers may be irritated or overwhelmed by their infants, which later results in feelings of guilt and shame.
“The peri-natal period is challenging for any new family – but especially for mothers who experience a broad range of emotional and hormonal triggers,” says Dr Tony Tanious from House Call Doctor, who trained in family medicine.
“New mothers should be reminded that post-natal depression is relatively common, and affects 1 in 10 women,” says Dr Tony. “It’s estimated that post-natal anxiety, which often leads to women feeling detached or withdrawn from family and friends, is just as prevalent.”
Depression can involve a range of negative health impacts for both mother and baby. For this reason, it’s important to identify the signs of post-natal depression or anxiety, so that appropriate support and treatment can be accessed.
New mothers can sometimes feel withdrawn or isolated from their family and friends. However, help is available.
Distinguishing the ‘baby blues’ from post-natal depression or anxiety
These symptoms of post-natal depression and anxiety may materialise straight after birth, or in the weeks, months and even year following the arrival of a new baby:
- Panic attacks and persistent worry
- The development of obsessive and/ or compulsive behaviours
- Increased sensitivity to noise and/ or touch
- Decreased or increased appetite
- Sleeping problems and extreme lethargy
- Memory problems or loss of concentration
- Loss of confidence and self-esteem
- Constant feelings of sadness, irritability or anger
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Fears of being alone with your child
- Intrusive thoughts of harming yourself or the baby
- Increased drug and alcohol abuse
- Loss of interest in sex or activities you might have previously enjoyed
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Researchers have estimated the annual cost of not treating a mother with post-natal depression is around $7,200 in lost income and productivity. This is worsened by the fact that many women feel as though they cannot discuss post-natal illnesses freely.
“Many new mothers feel that society expects them to be elated and grateful upon the arrival of a new baby,” says Dr Tony. “For this reason, women are often hesitant to talk about post-natal depression or anxiety with their healthcare professionals.”
However, there is a range of treatments available to assist depressed mothers. Conventional approaches such as antidepressants, counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy may be appropriate. Parenting classes, dietary supplements and exercise are other complimentary treatments.