Dubai: What is the most common complication of pregnancy? No, it’s not gestational diabetes or high blood pressure. Instead, according to the US-based National Centre for Biotechnology Information, it is postpartum depression, affecting 10 to 15 per cent of women.
“This condition continues to be underdiagnosed and undertreated despite increased awareness,” the centre stated in a study published in 2012.
However, ever since, a lot of progress appears to have been made in addressing this issue – earlier this week, results were announced from the latest clinical trial of a postpartum depression pill in the US, showing that it was safe and effective. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may approve it as soon as August.
Despite these steps, postpartum depression and maternal mental health still does not seem to be receiving the kind of attention they need.
According to Dr Shweta Misra, Clinical Psychologist at Aspris Wellbeing Centre, Dubai, while pregnancy and motherhood are a life-changing experience, they can bring on a range of worries and fears, such as concerns about the health of the baby, their ability to care for the baby, and the impact the baby will have on their life.
“Some women may struggle to adjust to the new roles and responsibilities, which can lead to a rollercoaster of emotions. A minority of them may experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a difficult childbirth experience, such as an emergency Caesarean section (C-section),” she said.
She also highlighted the role fathers can play in identifying the issue early.
“Their partner is usually the first person women turn to when they start to experience mental health issues during pregnancy or after the birth, so an open and supportive relationship is key. It’s also imperative that partners remain alert to any warning signs, such as difficulty coping,” she added.
About 1 in 5 women were not asked about depression during a prenatal visit.
50% - Over half of pregnant women with depression were not treated.
Source: US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
How post-natal depression is different from baby blues
• Very common
• Usually starts 2-3 days after birth
• May experience feelings of worry, unhappiness and fatigue
• Usually gets better on its own within two weeks
• Usually starts 1-3 weeks after birth
• Interferes with ability to do daily life activities
• Intense symptoms of sadness, anxiety, and hopelessness
• May include loss of interest in activities, withdrawing from friends and family, or thoughts of hurting self or baby
• Can occur up to a year after birth
• Usually requires treatment
2. Beginning to withdraw from your family.
3. Feeling irritable and intolerant towards partner and/or baby.
4. Sleeping badly, even when your baby is asleep.
5. Loss of interest in the world around you.
6. Negative thinking, particularly about you not being a good enough mum.
Fathers are at risk too.
It’s not just mums who struggle with the stress of parenting, but also dads. As many as eight to 10 per cent of fathers suffer from postpartum depression, according to a review published by US-based psychiatrist Dr Jonathan Scarff in the American medical journal Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience (ICNS).
And even if you are not diagnosed with clinical depression, the stress of being a new parent can be hard to handle – for both parents.
“Many parents face significant stressors that can impact their mental health. These include - but are not limited to - financial pressures, sleep deprivation, marital conflicts, and the constant demands of caregiving - all of which can take a significant toll on their emotional and psychological resilience,” Dubai-based psychologist Mohamad Naamani said.
“Moreover, societal expectations and the pressure to be a ‘perfect’ parent can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. It is crucial to recognise and address this issue, as the mental wellbeing of parents has been shown to correlate with the overall family dynamics and even, in some cases, the long-term development of children,” he added.
What you can do
1. Reset your expectations
“Motherhood is often glorified, which makes the pregnant woman or mother feel guilty about experiencing negative emotions,” Dr Misra said.
The solution, then, is to first reset your expectations and understand that caregiving is a difficult, yet critical task.
2. Take regular breaks/exercise
“Finding moments of solitude to engage in activities that bring joy and fulfillment can enhance self-care and personal growth,” Naamani said.
“This includes carving out designated time for activities such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies to help rejuvenate and recharge parents’ energy levels. Practising mindfulness and incorporating moments of relaxation throughout the day can also help reduce stress, maintain emotional balance, and clear one’s mind to be able to make sound decisions and effectively solve mundane as well as uninvited obstacles,” he added.
Dr Misra also advised mums to focus on their health and physical fitness, to improve the overall sense of wellbeing.
“Just 15 minutes of physical exercise a day - especially in the fresh air - can do wonders in terms of how you feel about yourself and helps boost your mental health. Include a meditation routine too,” she said.
3. Set boundaries and prioritise yourself
If you feel guilty taking time out for yourself, chances are you have not set clear boundaries to take care of yourself. Setting healthy boundaries and prioritising your own needs, is in fact extremely helpful for your own wellbeing and that of your loved ones.
“Prioritise restful sleep as well as nurture healthy eating habits to maintain both physical and mental health and wellbeing,” Naamani said.
4. Share the caregiving responsibilities
Naamani added that another equally important practice is for the parenting partner to share the everyday responsibilities.
“Sharing the responsibilities of childcare and household tasks can alleviate the burden on one parent and allow for self-care opportunities,” he added.
Self-care is not selfish
If taking time out for yourself feels like a selfish act, as it might appear as though you are putting your needs ahead of those of your family’s, remember – you will be a better parent when you are at your best. In the long term, it can also help children learn how to develop healthy coping habits to deal with stress in life.
“It is often difficult for any parent to be there for their children if they themselves are feeling out of balance or overwhelmed. Luckily, tending to their personal needs and own wellbeing often models mental health care and self-care for children. Applying self-care and whatever else helps you as a parent to feel regulated, as well as seeking support, will often encourage your little ones to mirror the same behaviour. In turn, this helps them to seek and learn self-soothing strategies and acknowledge the need for support without shame or worry,” Naamani added.