The one part of new motherhood that’s most likely to trigger postnatal depression
One in ten women experience depression within a year of giving birth.
Becoming a mother is probably the biggest life change a woman can experience. With your life no longer being about you but rather keeping a small human alive, the sleepless nights, dramatic changes to your body and fluctuating hormones, it’s unsurprising that postnatal depression is a common repercussion of new motherhood.
It’s so common, in fact, the NHS estimates 1 in every 10 women will experience postpartum depression within a year of giving birth. And research carried out by The Priory has identified one key part of motherhood that’s most likely to trigger it: breastfeeding.
Priory consultant psychiatrist, Dr Kathryn Hollins, who specialises in parent and child mental health, thinks the issue most likely arises thanks to a lack of immediate help and support when it comes to breastfeeding.
“I am convinced that many mums would be breastfeeding their babies happily and for longer if early help from professionals and experienced mothers was available at the exact moments when mums are faced with a screaming, hungry baby who hasn’t quite worked out how to ‘latch on’,” she said.
“Practical help and emotional support is needed now. In the UK this doesn’t usually happen. We set mums up to ‘fail’,” Dr Hollins added. This feeling of failure in turn acts as a trigger for depression.
A recent study published in the Journal of Maternal and Child Health also found a correlation with problems breastfeeding and postnatal depression. That research revealed those who planned to breastfeed but had not managed it were 2.5 times more likely to develop postnatal depression compared to those who hadn’t planned on breastfeeding in the first place.
According to Dr Hollins, there are a multitude of reasons women struggle with breastfeeding. It can symbolise a loss of independence; it can feel draining; it can cause an emotional rollercoaster of highs when everything’s going well and lows when things don’t go according to plan; and there is still a lot of taboo surrounding breastfeeding in public places, which can make it a continuously uncomfortable experience for some women.
While it’s easier said than done, it’s important to remember not to punish yourself if breastfeeding doesn’t work out for you in the way you had hoped. Everyone’s body is different, and everyone’s baby is different, but adding excess pressure to ‘get it right’ won’t help your mental health at a time when you’re already more vulnerable.
NHS signs of postnatal depression include:
- a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
- lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the wider world
- lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
- trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day
- difficulty bonding with your baby
- withdrawing from contact with other people
- problems concentrating and making decisions
- frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your baby.