HELPING NEW MOMS GET ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Question: Since we had our baby I have noticed my wife’s mood has changed quite dramatically. I’m very concerned because she doesn’t seem interested in the baby, and at times she seems to zone out as we’re having a conversation. Is there something I should be doing or somewhere I can take her for help?

Answer: You are right to be concerned. I’m wondering if she has spoken to her family doctor or obstetrician or midwife if she had one, about how she is feeling. It would be very important to alert the professionals who supported her throughout her pregnancy and the birth about her state of mind. Even a complication-free childbirth brings along with the celebration, the reality of sudden major changes you cannot fully prepare for psychologically and physically. As well as the emotional changes you both experience, your wife also continues to experience significant changes in her body while she is adjusting to the demands of taking care of your baby’s dependence primarily on her to meet immediate emotional and physical needs, 24/7. She has little time for herself, can become physically and mentally exhausted, and may not have supports other than you, such as extended family, for example, particularly if you have recently moved and are living in an unfamiliar community. She may be feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope.

I am not familiar with your particular situation, but I am concerned by both of your comments-- that your wife seems disinterested in the baby, and that she “zones out.” I think it is helpful to you both to have some facts about the kinds of mood changes that can follow childbirth, what you can do, and where you can seek help, but it would be most important first of all to follow up with your medical supports. She may need temporary medication and medical supervision to help her through this period.

12 to 15% of mothers (and up to 25% of adolescent mothers) experience mood changes that call for intervention by an experienced professional with expertise in post partum mood changes. Normal “baby blues,” typically beginning on the third or fourth day after delivery, may include symptoms such as tearfulness, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, poor concentration, fearfulness, and emotional instability. This condition is often transient and disappears after two or three weeks. For some women though, the condition may last longer, developing into a more serious mood or anxiety disorder. Post Partum Depression (PPD) is characterized by classic symptoms of depression or anxiety, extreme irritability, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, and intrusive thoughts about harming the baby. PPD with psychosis, the most severe form of PPD, is characterized by psychotic depression, mania, hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that other people cannot), delusions (fixed, false beliefs), extreme confusion and suicidal thoughts, and must be rapidly treated, for the safety of the mother and her baby. This condition is more common in women with a previously diagnosed bipolar disorder. PPD can last several weeks, months or even years after the birth. PPD is seen more frequently in women who have experienced previous episodes of depression. 30% of women with a history of depression prior to conceiving will develop postpartum depression.

These are some of the ways your wife can help herself:

  • getting some sleep (easier said, but if the baby naps during the day, your wife should try to discipline herself to sleep at the same time. Sleep deprivation is a depressant);
  • spending some time away from the baby – she needs to be encouraged to do this and not to feel guilty about it;
  • finding ways to nurture herself, even short periods can help;
  • eating well and exercising. A regular walk (even if it has to be with the baby) can make a big difference to mood;
  • being easy on herself about having difficulty coping; and paying attention to her positive experiences and feelings.

She can find supports and support groups through the Pacific Post Partum Support Society (web site below); and should seek help from family, if they are available, or friends she trusts to be able to take care of the baby while she has time on her own and/or with you.

Your role of course is essential. You can encourage her to talk to you about how she feels; tell her you love her and are there for her; share in home responsibilities; accept help from friends and family; be physically affectionate, but don’t push for sex until she’s ready.

It’s important for you both to remember that even though it may feel insurmountable in the beginning; women do recover from PPD to experience the enjoyment and fulfillment of motherhood.

Sources of information on PPD are found at www.heretohelp.bc.ca; and www.bcwomen’s.ca/services/healthservices/reproductivementalhealth.

Bea Donald, M.A., R.C.C., B.C.A.M.F.T. Program Manager and Clinical Supervisor of the Family Counselling / Employee Assistance Program at Family Services of the North Shore. Questions? Write This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 604-988-5281.