Struggling after you've had a baby? You're not alone. Here are the signs to look out for, where to get help and how you can feel better.
Most people might call 3am witching hour, but for a mother of a newborn, it’s just another time to get up and feed or change our babies. During one of my 3am call times, I woke up in a fog. I’d fallen asleep with my son at my breast and he had rolled onto his side. I thought, what if I accidentally crushed him, would my life go on as normal? I shut my eyes and buried the thought in my mind. What was wrong with me? Was I supposed to be having these thoughts?
All of a sudden, the tears started coming. I shoved my face into a pillow and let out a wail, careful not to wake my sleeping child. I felt miserable, and questioned my maternal instincts. Did I not love my child enough? Maybe having another child was a terrible mistake; something that I wasn’t capable of doing.
I poked my husband, rousing him from a deep, blissful sleep that I’d always been jealous of. “I almost rolled over the baby,” I sobbed. Bleary eyed, he hugged me and told me it was OK. I said that he needed to hold the baby, and then I left the room to continue crying. While he expertly shushed our son, I thought about all the reasons I was angry. I wanted him to feel as guilty as I did. I wanted him to feel bad for ruining my body, one that I had worked so hard for, only to be ravaged by pregnancy two years in a row. Was this normal?
This wasn’t what I expected having a baby to be. After giving birth the first time, I literally had heart eyes every time I’d see my son. Sure, I was tired, but never sad. This second time around, it felt like I was crying all the time or always on the verge of bursting into tears. It wasn’t ’til a few weeks down the line when I acknowledged that something was wrong.
“Do I have postpartum depression?” I asked my close group of girlfriends, who all had given birth just a few months earlier to their first. “Probably,” one of them said. “And we’re here for you whenever you need or feel like talking.”
It was the lifeline I never thought I needed. I’ve always had a mum group, but finding an outlet when I started to get sad or anxious helped. And finding out that it was normal also helped. In fact, studies show that up to 1 in 7 women may experience postpartum depression, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder.
“Most women in the first few weeks will experience a huge range of emotions – feelings of anxiousness and worry, not to mention being exhausted from lack of sleep. Many new mums also feel trapped because they are the only ones who can feed their baby (if breastfeeding), and often have bouts of crying over things that wouldn’t normally be an issue. Appetites change, insomnia can kick in, and just general concerns about being a good mother are all too real. These initial feelings are often referred to as the ‘baby blues’,” says Natasha Cullen of Beloved Bumps.
What are the baby blues?
The baby blues are caused by either physical or emotional changes, or both. Hormones play a big part, as well as lack of sleep, and physical changes such as engorged breasts, or recovery pains from birth – these are all contributing factors. You may also feel overwhelmed with the new responsibility of being a mother!
Baby blues normally go away on their own. To help yourself feel better, be sure to look after yourself as much as possible, and get rest wherever you can. Don’t feel guilty about having to give baby to dad or a family member whilst you have a rest if you need it – your body has gone through a lot during pregnancy and childbirth, so you need to remember ‘self care’ and to have a break.
Try to also go for a short walk to get fresh air every day – getting out of the house can help you feel better! Also do make sure you lean on friends and your support network if you are struggling. Sometimes it really helps when you hear that another new mum feels like they’ve been hit by a bus too!
If you’ve been feeling down, helpless, and you don’t have interest in your baby or usual activities you find fun, and it has been going on for longer than two weeks, then it is worth popping along to your GP. Your GP will ask some questions, and refer you for the help that you need.
There is NOTHING to be ashamed about by saying you have postnatal depression. It does not make you a bad parent, and no one will take your baby away because of it (a frequent concern of parents). In fact, recognising that you need help, and seeking it, makes you an excellent mother, because it means you will get the help you need to provide your baby with the love and support they need.
Postnatal depression is more likely to be triggered if:
- You have a history of mental health problems either earlier in life or during your pregnancy.
- You have no close family or friends around to support you.
- Maybe you have a poor or testing relationship with your partner.
- You’ve recently been dealing with stressful life events (moving home, relationship breakdowns, illness, etc).
- You have a difficult baby.
Where to seek help in Singapore
There are many great family counseling services, therapy sessions and resources mums can turn to if they need help with postnatal depression. Some even offer sleep training advice for newborns, as well as parenting workshops.
We all need to watch out for each other – especially if you are an expat who doesn’t have family here. So if you have a new mum friend, even if it isn’t her first baby, just ask her “Are you okay?”, and keep checking in. And if you are a mummy who feels that perhaps the baby blues are not passing, or that you could be suffering from postpartum depression, please do seek help. You can approach a GP, a good friend, a partner, a midwife: but do speak to someone.