What Causes Post Natal Depressionby Dr Emma Gray - 17th October, 2014
Having a baby makes you vulnerable to depression but not for the reasons that you may think.
In the first few weeks after having a baby the physical/hormonal adjustments that the body must make will have an impact on your emotions, leading to bouts of sudden and often unexplained tearfulness, this is referred to as ‘’the baby blues”.
However, the body (from a physiological perspective) soon rebalances itself, we are designed to reproduce and our bodies are designed to cope with this. Post natal depression is a mental health problem that usually occurs a number of weeks after the birth of a baby, sometimes a number of months and so cannot be attributed to hormonal or physiological changes occurring post natally.
So what causes Postnatal Depression? There does not seem to be one single cause but a number of factors will put you at risk.
1. Previous Episodes of Depression
Having a baby marks a significant change in a new mother’s life; everything from her role and responsibilities to her daily routine, social network and relationship with her partner and own parents will undergo a transformation like no other she has ever experienced before.
Such a massive change can be extremely destabilising and presents both practical and psychological challenges; this places a new mother in a vulnerable position and any previous unresolved issues are therefore likely to resurface, in particular previous episodes of both depression and anxiety but also problems like eating disorders (inc. anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
The challenges facing a new mother, like any, require confidence if they are to be negotiated comfortably. Those with low self esteem and confidence are prone to underestimate themselves (especially when in unknown territory), criticise themselves and compare themselves negatively to others. All of these ways of think make an individual vulnerable to depression, whether they have just had a baby or not.
3. Expectations of Motherhood
The media presents motherhood in a way that creates very unrealistic expectations, how many times have you heard a new mother say that they didn’t realise how hard it was going to be? These expectations make the new mother vulnerable to depression when she realises she cannot meet them.
Whether that it is because her baby won’t sleep when they are supposed to, won’t breastfeed, wants a dummy, doesn’t want a dummy or won’t stop crying and she doesn’t know why, a new mother can be left feeling that she isn’t doing a good enough job; a core belief held by those who become depressed.
4. Over-investment in work
Any imbalance in life can make us vulnerable to mental health problems. Over-investment in work is a good example of this and can lead to problems at any stage of life, particularly if unrelenting standards (perfectionism) in the workplace are the way that you manage low self esteem and confidence. A new mother who previous managed her mood by over working will find the challenging transition from working professional to stay at home mum particularly difficult because not only has her role in the world dramatically changed, she has lost one of her principal ways of coping when she feels inadequate or just not quite good enough; a recipe for postnatal depression.
The physical changes that a woman’s body must undergo in order to have a baby present a challenge for the most secure and body confidence amongst us. For someone who has poor body image or whose self esteem is tied to their weight and shape (as in those suffering from an eating disorder), these changes are enough to trigger an episode of post natal depression.