There is usually an exhausting, painful grief a new mother goes through – no matter how good her pregnancy turned out to be, or how thrilling the birth was, or how beautiful breastfeeding has ended up becoming, or how crazily in love she is with her new baby. It is okay and normal for new mothers to sometimes feel at their wits end with the 24-7 role of motherhood, with its self-sacrificial relentless devotion and shocking loss of self. We’re not bad to think that way. Heck, this is the one job we can never resign from and it’s unrealistic to expect that we should like our work all the time.

However, about 15-20 percent of new mothers (though from my observations I believe it’s more like 20-25 percent) find that during their normal postpartum adjustment they experience an episode of severe depression. Inwardly you may feel an unrelenting sad hollowness, and be unable to understand why you’re feeling like such a moody, irritable, grumbling, crumbling lost-soul that is no longer living, just existing. You’re feeling like there’s no way out and life is never getting better, optimism is vanishing before your eyes, and is being replaced instead with an intense inability to chill-out anymore – like a pressure-cooker about to implode, and sick and tired of being so sick and tired!

Some mums are clever enough to publicly maintain an everything-is-fine persona, while robotically functioning with tight-lipped martyrdom and seething resentment. These angry feelings then mutate into perpetuating shame, guilt at not feeling happy, and an inexplicable psychodynamic of aching darkness. You may be coping, or not, with your baby and household tasks, but you certainly are not enjoying your life!

Feeling like this is not normal – and like a tooth cavity, the decay won’t go away without treatment. This is a postnatal stress disorder or postpartum depressive reaction – with the most common variety being Post Natal Depression (also called Postpartum Depression).

Tragically, PND was historically viewed to be just a feeble-minded housewife who needed to simply ‘pull herself together’. Fortunately, neurological scientific research now clearly understands that for many mothers, PND is actually simply a physiological imbalance of neuro-transmitters (primarily serotonin) manifesting in the emotions of happiness and contentment being inhibited – primarily caused by the seismic hormonal upheaval of pregnancy and birth, and often intensified by REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep-deprivation.

Modern science and modern doctors know PND can be little to do with the woman’s personality, because the extreme combination of recovering from childbirth, 24-7 parental responsibilities and sleep-deprivation, can all combine to set any woman up for a depressive reaction … it’s an intense time!

If you’re wondering if you have PND, below are my recommendations of the action to take – though of course other experts may have other advice – there are many perspectives to the problem and to the solution.

  •  Read my book OH BABY [chapter-11] for much more detailed information.
  • Visit the website for the Trauma And Birth Stress Charitable Trust [www.tabs.org.nz] to ensure you don’t actually have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
  • Complete the multi-choice questionnaire EPDS (Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale) which you can find on the internet.
  • If your EPDS score is 9-12 then know you are border-line. The herbal supplements of 5-HTP, Ginkgo Biloba or Siberian Ginseng could assist tremendously to improve things, along with a boost of Essential Amino Acids and general multi-vitamin.
  • For mild depression, popular in Europe is St John’s Wart. [Note: Do not combine St John’s Wart with prescribed medications as its metabolic properties can cause detrimental drug-drug interactions, including deactivating the contraceptive pill. Also St John’s Wart, like pharmaceutical antidepressants, takes 2-6 weeks to become therapeutically beneficial.]
  • If your EPDS score is 13+ then know you probably have undiagnosed clinical depression, and really should visit a kind and caring GP doctor, who will probably prescribe you with an antidepressant such as Aropax SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor).

But at the end of the day, please know in your heart that there is NO wisdom in hesitating to find help. For ignoring your own needs mean you lose, your partner loses, and your baby loses.


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Kathy is a wife; mother of three; north Auckland self-employed midwife; weekly Parenting columnist; founding director of BabyOK™ Products (producers of the renowned Babe-Sleeper); and author of NZ’s No.1 guide for new mums “OH BABY…Birth, Babies & Motherhood Uncensored” and the sequel “OH GROW UP…Toddlers to PreTeens Decoded”. You can find out more about Kathy on her website.

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