Postpartum depression (or postnatal depression) is a very common experience for new mothers, usually caused by varying hormone levels. After the first joy and excitement over the birth, almost all mothers have feelings of depression, resulting in weepiness, feeling inadequate and unable to cope. This mild form is known as baby blues and soon wears off.
One in ten women suffers from PND more severely, beginning from three weeks to six months after the birth. They become moody, easily distressed, reject their partner and child, cannot sleep, have a poor appetite and feel anxious and guilty. This condition needs medical counselling. Drugs may be prescribed but simpler treatment, such as kindness and understanding from friends and relations, going out, taking up hobbies and discussing the problem, will often be valuable.
One in 500 new mothers suffers a much more severe depression known as puerperal psychosis, which needs emergency remedies involving psychiatric care. The Infanticide Act (1938) states that a woman cannot be found guilty of the murder of her child within twelve months of its birth if she is suffering from severe postnatal depression.
Organisations that can help include the Association for Postnatal Illness, Parents Anonymous, the Samaritans, and the Meet A Mum Association.
This should take place about six weeks after the birth. This six-week period is known as the puerperium, and by the end of the six weeks the reproductive organs should have returned to their proper size. The check-up can be carried out by the woman's own GP, or at the hospital where the baby was delivered.
At the check-up the doctor will:
- check the mother's weight, blood pressure and urine.
- if an episiotomy was needed, check that this is healing.
- give a routine smear test.
- offer contraceptive advice.
- check on the mother's emotional condition and any signs of post partum depression.