Recognizing the ‘baby blues’

Baby blues, or postpartum depression, happens to some mothers (and a few fathers) following the birth of a child

My daughter just had her first baby and we are thrilled. She and her husband are also happy, but she is quite tired. I realized now that I had baby blues after she was born but I didn’t know what was wrong. I want to make sure that if this happens to her she can get some help. What are the signs that baby blues are happening, and not just normal tiredness? What should we do if we see the signs?

Baby blues, or postpartum depression, happens to some mothers (and a few fathers) following the birth of a child. It is normal to feel tired as babies need a lot of around-the-clock care. It is also normal to have many feelings about becoming a parent and about the changes this brings to family members’ lives and relationships. Sad days, moments of feeling overwhelmed, and occasional regrets about the decision to have a baby are common.

Some signs that the normal ups and downs of becoming a parent are settling into a pattern of postpartum depression for a new mother can include sadness that doesn’t go away, loss of interest in things that she used to enjoy, withdrawal from contact with other people, negative feelings and thoughts about the baby, and serious doubts about her worth and ability as a parent. A new mother with postpartum depression may also have trouble with sleep that is not related to baby care and may lose her appetite.

If you see the signs that your daughter is struggling there are a number of things you can do to help. As her mother you are in a good position to offer her non-judgmental support and encouragement. You can help her be realistic about her expectations of herself as a new mother. You can offer practical help with household chores and baby care. Since sleep deprivation is one of the things that can contribute to postpartum depression you can work with other people around her to make sure she gets time to sleep. You can also give your daughter and her husband some time on their own as they have to work out how to be parents together while still enjoying being a couple.

If your daughter continues to struggle and you think that she is developing postpartum depression then it is important that she seeks help. Her public health nurse and family doctor are good people to start with. There are also internet resources that offer helpful information. Talking with a counsellor or attending a group for new parents may also help your daughter and her husband work through their feelings about the transition to parenthood. For your part, offering your understanding as a person who has been through a depression and being sensitive to and accepting of her feelings would be helpful.

To ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead, Sara-Lynn Kang and Carolyn Howard at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Thursday in the Record.

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