Away With Postnatal Emotional Problems

It’s normal to experience a bit of emotional upheaval when a baby is born. Most women get ‘baby blues’ or ‘third day blues’ a few days after giving birth and have a week or two of increased anxiety and emotionality before things return to normal. If symptoms don’t clear up or seem particularly severe, new mother anxiety may have become postnatal depression (PND), or the more recently recognised condition called postnatal depletion. These can all develop any time during the first year of Baby’s life and the symptoms can last a very long time if not recognised and treated.

The symptoms can be mild or very severe, and there is no single trigger. Often it develops due to a combination of factors such as a traumatic birth, loneliness, stress, and hormonal factors. A woman is particularly vulnerable after giving birth and too many stress factors can lead to full-on depression. There are a number of possible triggers, including:

1.       False expectations

If you have unrealistic expectations or believe that you are totally prepared for birth and life thereafter, the reality of the humdrum of post-baby life can cause disillusionment and depression. Often women who are used to efficiently running their work and personal lives struggle with this, as they feel like a failure when these methods don’t work in their new baby-orientated lifestyle. Women with low self-esteem are also prone to depression. The best approach is a change in attitude and it can help to talk things through with somebody else – especially a mom who has been through something similar.

2.       Hormones

Throughout pregnancy there’s lots of hormonal activity – and this all changes suddenly after birth. The ‘hormonal crisis’ often causes women to feel more emotional, weepy, sentimental, irrationally unhappy, angry, disillusioned, depressed, and even suicidal or completely disinterested in Baby, their families, or their own welfare. Often, the body adapts quickly to these hormonal changes and the result is nothing more than a brief bout of the third day blues. However, these feelings get progressively stronger in some women and sometimes only develop weeks or months after the birth. The fact that it is ‘just’ hormones doesn’t mean that you can just ‘pull yourself together’; this is a legitimate medical condition which may require medical treatment.

3.       Incessant crying

A colicky or ill baby often cries non-stop, leads to sleep deprivation, and causes plenty of anxiety for new parents – all of which can trigger depression! Sitting at home all day with an unhappy baby can trigger the blues, and moms who keep busy while dealing with whatever treatment Baby needs often cope better. Try to arrange outings with other moms and make sure that you leave a bit of ‘you time’ as well!

4.       Relationship strain

Having a baby isn’t going to save an ailing relationship; unresolved relationship problems aren’t a good base to start a new family on. Communication is vital so that both you and your partner understand what each of you is experiencing after Baby’s birth. Be careful that you don’t use Baby against each other, as a pawn in your arguments. View parenting as a team project, not as a competition; not only can this help combat depression, it will also form a wonderful foundation for raising a child.

5.       Tiredness

Sleep deprivation and exhaustion is practically the norm for new moms, although some women react more negatively than others. Don’t underestimate how much this can affect the psyche; it’s the seat of depression. Sleepless nights aren’t really preventable because Baby’s sleep requirements can’t be predicted or controlled. The only thing to do is change how infant sleep is approached – co-sleeping is a wonderful sleeping arrangement which can be very effective in treating PND.

6.       Anaemia

Blood loss during and after birth can lead to anaemia – which can cause tiredness, listlessness, and depression. The body usually corrects this condition by itself, although it’s a good idea to get a blood test at your six week check-up and use iron supplements if necessary.

7.       Chemical imbalances

It’s possible for important vitamins and minerals to be depleted after pregnancy and the efforts of birth. If you develop PND, it’s a good idea to get a blood test to check whether or not there’s a chemical imbalance which needs to be corrected. Zinc is vital for a developing baby, but it also contributes to a sense of mental and physical wellbeing in the postnatal period. Calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B are all very necessary in the postnatal period too, and supplementation may be necessary.

8.       A depressive personality

Women with a more sombre personality are sometimes more prone to depression. Remember that there is help for this from both the homeopathic and the orthodox fields.


Never let PND go untreated; it doesn’t get better on its own and can have quite devastating effects on the entire family. If you suspect you are experiencing symptoms of postnatal anxiety, depletion or depression, please see your doctor or counsellor, or contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) for help. The best way to deal with postnatal anxiety, depletion and depression is to understand your personal triggers and to get lots of love, support, tenderness, and understanding from your partner, family, and close friends. It’s also important to get real, practical help and to have some time off from caring for Baby each week so that you can sleep in and feel physically and mentally restored too.