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Health & Fitness

Seek urgent help for postnatal depression

Teenage mother and baby. Stressed young mother
Teenage mother and baby. Stressed young mother holding her 4 month old daughter. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

I am a new mother and I have suddenly developed a dislike for my newborn. I can’t figure out why. I had craved to have this baby but I feel too detached from her. My husband keeps telling me it will be okay but I can’t understand all that is happening. Help.

Like 15 per cent of all mothers, you seem to have developed post-partum depression and you must seek help at once. Your husband is wrong about what you must do, but one hopes he means well, and therefore you must involve him in what you decide to do next.

Let’s start with the basics. This is not a case of baby blues. In the first few days after delivery, most women go through ‘the blues’. A bit of tiredness, loss of sleep, irritability, tearfulness, are all features of the massive hormonal changes that take place in the new mother’s body. Within 10 days to two weeks, most bounce back as the war of the hormones settles down, and for majority, the joy of being a mother has no equivalent in the joy and satisfaction if brings. For about 85-90 per cent of all women, childbirth is a happy time.

For you and many of your sisters, postnatal depression is real and often demand professional attention. Remember that postnatal depression can start at any time during the first year after delivery. There is a rarer and more serious mental illness that involves complete psychosis. In this condition (which we will not discuss here) the mother becomes delusional, experiences hallucinations and can at times hear voices.

A 29-year-old mother was admitted to a private clinic last year, six months after the birth of her first child. She was a well-respected young banker who worked for a large bank. Her career had taken off at an early stage and she held a senior management position. Her husband was a partner in a law firm and when they got married two years earlier, they were described as a model couple, well educated, hardworking and from good families.

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Childbirth was to change the lives of this couple!

Her pregnancy was not easy and she was forced to take long periods of rest in bed to ensure the baby survived. The delivery had been difficult and labour was prolonged and ended up with an emergency caesarean section. During the pregnancy, her husband had become restless and on one or two occasions failed to come home on a Friday night. He asked for forgiveness for drinking too much and things seemed to have ended there. The stress of the pregnancy was too much for him.

Her mother-in-law was “not nice” and blamed her for the son’s drinking and the problems she seemed to have put on herself. The mother- in- law did not explain but remained bossy and distant. Pregnancy, difficult husband and a mother-in-law who made her feel “worthless” were the ingredients that predicted serious future problems.

When the baby was born, things changed for the worse. The mother-in law-visited often, criticised the new mother and undermined her authority in her home. For months after delivery, things became intolerable and she left the home to be with her mother. The mother, a trained nurse knew exactly what to do for her daughter. A consultant psychiatrist was seen at short notice, because this was a medical emergency that involved a mother and her baby.

The history was classic, a difficult pregnancy, and delivery, followed by an environment with inadequate social support. Sadness and mood swings soon led to lack of enjoyment (of motherhood or anything else). She had trouble sleeping, and like you told us, of difficulties bonding with her baby. She was unable to be with people, could not concentrate and felt alienated from God. She had frightening thoughts that she might harm her baby.

While the patient was in hospital, her mother kept the baby by day while the new mother received the counselling and medication she needed. She was allowed to keep the baby at night. Two weeks after initial diagnosis, she was well enough to go back home and her husband received her and the baby with much joy!

Theirs was a story of postnatal depression with a happy ending.

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