It is a very common occurrence that a new mum is highly emotional following the birth of her child. But the ‘baby blues’ should lift after a couple of weeks. If you have symptoms that continue or start later then it may be a sign of Postnatal Depression (PND). The condition affects around a third of new mothers and is much talked about, but the causes are little understood. Chemical changes in the body are a contributing factor in causing PND. However, trauma from pregnancy and delivery can cause PTSD and is often a major factor. In addition, having a baby dramatically changes our lives which can lead to our emotional needs not being met. This article seeks to explain the psychological factors behind Postnatal Depression, and offers guidance on self-treatment and professional help.


What are the signs of Postnatal Depression?


Various medical sources estimate that Postnatal Depression affects around 10-15% of new mothers. However a wide ranging survey by children’s charity 4Children claims that it actually affects around 33% of new mothers. The National Childbirth Trust, which is a fantastic resource, agrees with these statistics. It lists the following symptoms to be aware of:

  • a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the wider world.
  • lack of energy and feeling tired all the time.
  • trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day.
  • difficulty bonding with your baby.
  • withdrawing from contact with other people.
  • problems concentrating and making decisions.
  • frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your baby.

Some or all of these symptoms may be an indicator of Postnatal Depression. Often the symptoms recede and disappear, and life gets back to normal without any intervention. However, if you are struggling with the severity of the symptoms or have had them for a longer period of time, then it might be best to seek further help. If your pregnancy or birth wasn’t straightforward, it’s possible that these traumatic experiences have resulted in PTSD.

In addition, traumatic pregnancies or births often result in a decision not to have any more children. According to a study published in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, women with a negative experience of their first birth had fewer subsequent children or a longer interval to the second baby.


How do I know if I have PTSD?


PTSD is often wrongly confined to war veterans, but it can actually affect anyone. The definition of trauma can be defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Therefore the list of what constitutes a traumatic experience would be very long indeed, as what one person finds traumatic may not necessarily be the case for another. However, what these experiences do share in common is that a strong emotional reaction will be present at the time.

The unconscious part of our brain actually records everything that we see and hear, but the vast majority of that information is just stored away, and we are never consciously aware of it unless we need to be. So whilst we are always scanning and storing away information, the difference in a trauma situation is that information connected to an emotional threat is stored in a different part of the brain.  Trauma patterns are stored in our emotional brain instead of being transferred to our normal memory store. Our emotional brain scans the environment and constantly checks for any danger. Memories stored in our emotional brains are used as patterns to keep us safe in the future.

As humans, our brains pattern match to our environment all the time, both consciously and unconsciously. As a result we can be pattern matching to these stored trauma memories often without realising it. A full explanation of how the brain processes trauma can be found here.


PTSD, Postnatal Depression and our emotional needs


If our brains are pattern matching to stored traumas it is likely to cause us a great deal of distress and anxiety. The result is that the sufferer often finds that they are less able to meet their emotional needs. If we are fearful and anxious we will be much less likely to engage with others, to talk openly and feel emotionally resilient. When our emotional needs are not met well in balance it can result in depression, panic and anxiety conditions.

Following the birth of a baby, even if not traumatic, life is often dramatically different, especially with a first child. A new mum may have stopped working a full time job and is now at home all day. She is possibly, after the first couple of weeks, alone for extended periods with her baby. This can lead to feelings of isolation, affecting the need for community. In addition, not earning a wage or having the structure of the workplace can affect the needs for status, achievement and security. If the baby is fractious and not sleeping, then as well as being exhausted, a new mum might feel that she has no control over her life. She may also feel that she can’t connect with other people or with her baby.

Test your emotional needs

Along with our physical needs that allow us to survive, our emotional needs are what we all need to thrive. You can do your own test to see how your needs are doing by taking an Emotional Needs Audit. Due to the challenges facing new mothers, it is extremely common for them to have multiple needs scored very low.


What can I do myself to combat Postnatal Depression?


Take our emotional needs audit and rate how your individual needs are being met. If several or even one of the needs is scored very low then see what you can do to bring these back into balance. If your need for community is very low, you could join a Mother and Baby group or reconnect with friends. It may be that none of your friends have young children, so if that’s the case, Mother and Baby groups are an ideal way to build a new community. Take any help that friends or family offer you, so that you can occasionally pursue your own interests.  You may even just want to have a quiet bath!

Exercise is a great way to keep you out of your emotional brain and reduce anxiety. Try a Buggy Exercise class, which allows you to get fit while still with your baby and meet other people.

As you increase your awareness of what you need to be emotionally healthy you’ll start to feel more in control.

If that feels too much right now…

Of course, you may be finding that the things listed above seem impossible right now. It may be that simply the thought of leaving the house, or joining a group seems an insurmountable task. You certainly wouldn’t be the first new mum to feel that way. If you are finding that you are not able to do the things you need to do to get emotionally healthy then getting some help early on is a great idea.

Therapy can help you to deal with the sudden changes in your life, so you can enjoy this time. It should be noted however that trauma requires specialist therapy in order to deal with it effectively.


What is the treatment for PTSD or trauma?


If you’ve suffered complications during pregnancy or birth, you may require specialist trauma counselling. Good trauma counselling will allow the trauma to be stored as a normal (albeit not pleasant) memory. Once the brain stops pattern matching to the trauma memory, it reduces the level of distress. The memory can then begin to fade over time and feel more distant. In addition to this, the memory is likely to feel more rounded with other more pleasant aspects coming to mind.

This should not involve multiple sessions where you relive the experiences, since this can deepen the trauma. Endlessly talking about the traumas will not help.


Understanding PTSD and the link to Postnatal Depression


It is really encouraging that there is much more awareness of Postnatal Depression and detecting early signs. There are lots of resources on the internet giving useful tips on how to get support and make helpful changes. However, there definitely needs to be more widespread information on how trauma caused by complications in pregnancy and birth can not only cause PND but stop the sufferer from making the necessary changes to beat it and enjoy life once more. I hope this information has been useful. As ever, if you know someone who would benefit from reading this and the other resources linked to it, then please share. For lots more information why not head over to our website.

With very best wishes


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