For most parents having a new child is the best experience of their whole life. Their happiness is obvious despite the many challenges, responsibilities & lack of sleep. One thing is for sure - life with children will never be the same as the PKE. The Pre- Kids Era is I like to call it!
However for some parents the experience of having a newborn child can be a far from happy one. Post natal depression in new mums (& dads) is much more common than the community realises. It can happen suddenly & unexpectedly. More often than not there is no past medical history of any mental health issues or any warning signs during the pregnancy. Sometimes the first or second baby is born & cared for with no problems & then suddenly with the third baby a case of severe postnatal depression sets in.
I am always on the lookout for signs & symptoms of post natal depression in the parents of children that I care for in my practice. One of my interests is Gastro-oesophageal reflux & it is not surprising that these irritable & difficult to settle babies precipitate post natal depression. However, even parents of completely normal babies are not immune to the effects of PND. Most parents describe PND as like being stuck in a big, black hole with no energy or ability to focus. Parents are often exhausted & teary. Caring for their new born baby becomes overwhelming. As I mentioned PND is not limited to mums. I have encountered many dads with severe PND. I think it relates to the fact that they often feel helpless as their partners are distracted & they are expected to continue working with minimal to no sleep. Not being able to breast feed does not help the situation.
The most important thing is to get help for mums & dads in distress. I am not a psychiatrist so I always liaise with the parent’s GP to make sure that they are aware of the PND & to ensure that appropriate referrals & support mechanisms are in place. For many parents, especially dads, it is very hard to recognise that they are suffering with PND so the first step is getting parents to recognise that there is an issue & also to ensure that there is a willingness to get help.
Treatment can range from anti-depressants for severe cases to in home support from volunteer & charity organisations. Grandparents, family & close friends can also provide support for new parents if they are available & supportive.
The most important thing for new parents is that if you are feeling overwhelmed with your new baby – please get help from your GP or early childhood nurse. All the health professionals are here to help. We can’t have healthy babies if parents are unwell, so please don’t suffer in silence. For more information please look at the following sites:
By Dr Jonny Taitz