We’ve all heard of the baby blues, but how do you know when baby blues are normal- temporary low moods due to fluctuating hormone levels between 2 and 14 days post-delivery- and when they have become more than just the blues?
With between 21-50% of South African women suffering from some form of perinatal distress, we desperately need to raise awareness of maternal mental health.
Just the nomenclature of maternal mental health gives an indication of how confusing the
subject is: initially it was called post-natal depression, then post-partum depression and more recently it’s been named peri-natal distress. The most recent name, peri-natal distress, is the most accurate because it encompasses more than what is traditionally recognized as post-natal depression.
People tend to think traditionally of post-natal depression as only being evident after (post) the birth of the baby and /or solely consisting of symptoms of tearfulness, low mood and anhedonia. In fact, more and more we are realizing that the symptoms can begin as soon as the pregnancy begins and can last up to two years after delivery, and that symptoms can consist of more than just typical depressive symptoms, with a range of symptoms from severe anxiety, aggression and agitation all the way through to the more recognized depressive symptoms.
What to look out for:
How do you know if you or someone you love has peri-natal distress?
There are some telltale signs to look out for:
• Lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the outside world
• Lack of energy and feeling tired all the time, low mood
• Trouble sleeping at night and feeling exhausted during the day
• Difficulty bonding with the baby
• Withdrawing from contact with other people
• Problems concentrating and making decisions
• Frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting the baby or harming yourself
• Thoughts about suicide
• Anxiety that interferes with your ability to function and that is disproportionate to the triggers
• Persistent tearfulness
When you are suffering from Peri-natal distress it can be difficult for you to pick up these
signs in yourself which is why it is so important that those around you (spouse, family and friends) are aware of the warning signs.
What are the risk factors for Peri-natal distress?
Peri-natal distress does not usually have one single cause, but is usually the result of the interplay of a number of factors. Some common risk factors for Peri-natal distress are:
• A history of mental health problems, particularly depression, earlier in life
• A history of mental health problems during pregnancy
• Having no close family or friends to support you
• Having a poor relationship with your partner
• Having an unwanted child
• Stressful socio-economic
• Having HIV or other chronic illnesses
• Being in an abusive relationship
• Drug or substance abuse
Poor maternal mental health doesn’t only have an impact on the mother, but also on the child.
Peri-natal distress can lead to impaired cognitive and emotional development of the infant and can have ramifications for the whole family.
The good news is that, if caught early, it can be treated effectively in most cases: happy mom, happy baby and happy family.
If you think you or your loved one may have Peri-natal distress, contact your GP as soon as possible. Alternatively, please contact the Mums Support network on 0837880689 or visit www.mumsupport.co.za