Suffering bigger baby blues

PA Photo/thinkstockphotos
PA Photo/thinkstockphotos

Most new mums suffer from baby blues and are hugely aware of postnatal depression (PND).

It’s a serious condition and while getting to grips with a brand new life stage and enjoying the freedom of maternity leave, it’s not uncommon to worry about or suffer from PND.

But now, a new study carried out in Australia and published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, has revealed women are actually more likely to suffer this condition four years after giving birth.

The results revealed that 14% of women suffered depression when their child was approaching school age, with four in 10 of those suffering having never had any previous problems before.

Almost one in three first-time mothers reported suffering depressive symptoms at least once between pregnancy and four years after birth, the study found.

It also revealed that women who only had one baby were twice as likely to suffer from postnatal depression.

Dr Hannah Woolhouse, co-author of the report, said: “It is likely that current systems of maternal mental health surveillance in Australia and the UK will miss more than half the women experiencing depression in the early years of parenting.

“In particular, women who do not have subsequent children may be especially vulnerable to falling through the gaps, as they will not be reconnected back into primary care services.”

Researchers are urging doctors to be aware of these new figures, but it’s also important for mums to monitor how they’re feeling as well.

Symptoms can vary greatly, from simply feeling low and suffering from sleeplessness, to full-blown thoughts of self-harm and suicide at the more severe end of the scale.

Mums suffering from PND may even think about harming their child, though such thoughts aren’t usually acted upon, explains Dr Lucinda Green, a spokesperson for the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

“There are often a lot of different factors that come together,” she says.

“It’s a combination of biological, psychological and social factors. Having a child is a huge change for women and it doesn’t always go as people expect. Some find it difficult to adjust, even if it’s a very much-wanted baby.”

While PND can strike any new - and not so new - mum, it’s still more likely to affect women who have a past history of depression. The risk is also higher for mothers who’ve experienced a very stressful event, or who don’t have a strong support system around them.

Family and friends may notice a slight change in personality, though Green warns: “Some women are good at hiding their symptoms, and we hear stories about them being reluctant to seek help, because they’re worried they’ll be judged for not being a good mother.

“It’s really important to stress that women should seek help,’’ Green adds. “Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of stigma around mental illness, but women must get help if they’re ill, so they can get better and look after their child.”