‘Although mental health is being spoken about more than it ever has, pre and post natal mental illnesses are still left in the dark, given that 1 in 10 women and 1 in 3 men battle with these illnesses during parenthood. With your help, by talking about perinatal mental illnesses in its many forms during PND Awareness Week we can ensure that no parent going through these heartbreaking illnesses feels alone in their fight. (PANDAS Foundation)
My name is Debbie and I have had Post Natal Depression and Anxiety twice in the past 4 years. On my journey I have discovered many things about it and myself. As well as wanting to share my story, I also want to share with you some of the things that I found helped me the most through the darkness. Below you will find my Top 5 tips to help you survive and below that my own personal story.
So, here are my top 5 tips to help you survive PND and anxiety –
No. 1 Cut Out The Caffeine
I know how crazy this may sound. You are the most exhausted you have ever probably been. That caffeine hit feels like a lifeline! But what if it’s having the opposite effect? There is some research out there that suggests caffeine can increase anxiety levels and in my mind it makes sense that, as coffee is a stimulant, it could over stimulate you into a fight or flight response! For me personally, I found cutting out caffeine had a huge impact on my anxiety attacks and although they didn’t stop complete, they greatly reduced in frequency and intensity. I swapped Coke for sparkling water and coffee for herbal teas (I tried a variety but my favourites are jasmine and fennel). If you don’t feel you can cut caffeine out completely , maybe look at reducing your intake and limiting it to certain times of the day when you are less likely to feel twitched by its stimulation (I.e, drink it in the morning not late afternoon/evening when you need to wind down)
No. 2 Exercise
You don’t have to get signed up to your local gym, even a short walk* in the fresh air can have huge benefits for your mood. In my area we are fortunate to have a great new voluntary organisation called Ready Steady Mum to help get mums out and about.This is a free, volunteer led walking group, supported by local health visitors and if you don’t have a branch near you why not think about setting one up?.
Alternatively things like running, cycling, mummy friendly exercise classes, yoga, pilates, etc are all great ways to help boost your endorphins and give your mind and body some TLC.
Check out the Mummies Club Adult Fitness Calendar to see what’s on near you!
* Mums are often advised by healthcare professionals to wait until 6weeks post-partum before taking up exercise so please check with them before doing so.
No. 3 More Sleep
Again, easier said than done with a new baby but sleep is essential for survival so doing what you can to get good quality sleep makes sense.
One of the biggest things I did was I stopped sitting up on my phone during the night feeds. There is some evidence that the blue light emitted from such devices such as mobile phones, can have an effect on the hormones that help us sleep (Melatonin). By not exposing my brain to this light I felt that I was able to return to sleep much easier over time.
Another thing I did was get a better understanding of what was normal in terms of how babies sleep, so that I could amend my expectations accordingly. The Infant Sleep Information Source offers non-biased, evidence based information about how babies sleep, and includes factsheets on subjects such as Safe Co-sleeping. We chose to use this method as it felt right for us and we knew how to do it safely. I went to sleep a lot easier knowing my son was close by and I also could feed him throughout the night without having to get up. Co-sleeping is not the right choice for everyone though so it’s important to look at all the guidlelines and make an informed decision. –NHS guidelines.
No. 4 Talk About It
As well as calling the Samaritan’s, I spoke to my GP, Health Visitors and had a Counsellor. All of these professional’s offered me support and reassurance and their input was vital to my recovery.
Again, we are very lucky in my area as we have a fab team of people, led by Beth Broadway, Community Midwife, currently working on a PND support website –
‘Maternal emotional wellbeing matters…
A healthy body needs a healthy mind. Good emotional wellbeing is an essential part of health, just as is physical good health.
For many women and their families having a baby is a happy time. However, some women find their moods are lower than normal and they may feel more anxious. Pregnancy and birth can have an impact on your emotional wellbeing as pregnancy hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone contribute to giving you this mix of emotional highs and lows. Stress levels can rise when life-changing events happen, even when the event is positive and joyful.
The Maternity Department within Portsmouth Hospital are building a website that looks at emotional wellbeing during pregnancy and up to a year after birth. The aim of this website is to let women know that it is okay to tell your midwife or GP if you are feeling emotionally low, anxious or depressed. It lets the women know that health professionals are there to help them and will not judge or criticise them for having these feelings.
The website will be live from November 2016.
No. 5 Friends
My friends help keep me grounded, and in the early months my mummy friends were my constant. On the days that getting out the house just seemed impossible they would pop over to mine instead. If I wanted to get out but couldn’t face driving, we would car share. We would attend groups together and we would share the ups and downs of motherhood. I’ve always be fortunate to have great friends and family but my Mummy Friends very quickly became my Tribe (more on this another time!) and I will always be very grateful for their love and support!
So, there you have it, just a few of the things that I found helped me through my journey with PND! Don’t forget to check out and share this video for #PNDAW16
If you feel that you or someone you know may need some support please contact your health care professional and check out these helpful links
Aliens, Zombies and PND – My Story
In October 2012 I became mummy to my first Pea. From the moment he was in my arms I was besotted and I remember a rush of immense love and relief that he had arrived safely.
We came home from hospital the following day and proudly introduced our new son to our family and friends who came to visit. Over the next few weeks we got out and about. I met up regularly with my new mummy friends from our NCT course, and Pea got passed around for cuddles as we waited for the other babies to join the group!
I tried my best to ‘sleep when baby sleeps’, lived on coffee, cake and chocolate and spent days out and about doing things so that I didn’t have to sit at home alone with a crying, pooping, booby monster all day. People commented on how well I looked and how great it was that I was up and about. I loved showing off my Pea and enjoyed being in the company of others.
It was when I was at home though that the intrusive thoughts started to seep in. I remember when my son was less than a week old waking up in a sobbing panic. I’d just witnessed an alien ship blow up my parents house, Independence Day style, with me and my son in it. The fear and panic I felt in this dream came down on me like a ton of bricks. It’s laughable now but at the time it was so vivid , I even told my mum about it and she said she remembered having similar dreams about apocalyptic things happening when she had my eldest brother. It was kinda nice to know that this was normal!
Over time though it escalated. I would sit up in bed feeding at night, feeling in a total panic that if I looked out the window I would see an horror scene of zombies approaching the house. I’d start planning what we would do and how we would escape or hide. (Can you tell I’m a sci-fi fan?). It was a real fear and would stop me from sleeping. My rational mind seemed to have gone on holiday and my thoughts went off on some weird tangents, being consumed with this overwhelming urgency to protect my offspring. I started to develop obsessive compulsive tendencies – if I didn’t check the tap was off three times something bad would happen! A small part of my mind knew this was irrational but the urge and need to behave this way was stronger and I just went with it as I didn’t have any fight.
One day I was cooking dinner, my son, only a few weeks old, in his bouncer chair. As I stood at the hob my arms started to tingle. I tried to ignore it; maybe I just need a drink and something to eat? I grabbed a banana and some water but I couldn’t eat, I felt like I would be sick. Then I felt a sudden need to rush to the loo. My whole body started to feel numb and I felt like I was going to faint. My mind raced, was it a migraine starting? Was I having a heart attack or a stroke? I felt weak and scared. Next thing I know, my mind had played out this whole scene of me collapsing onto the floor, the frying pan going up in flames and the house slowly burning down with my helpless baby screaming and no-one here to save us. In that moment I did the only thing I could do, I turned off the dinner, scooped up my Pea and went and sat in the middle of the living room, cuddling him feeling terrified and overwhelmed by the realisation that I had this little life to protect. I called my husband to come home from work and when he did I was able to go to bed to get some rest while he cuddled our Pea. I just thought I was tired and more sleep would help. My hubby looked after us both as much as possible and in between working. I can’t fault the support and love he gave me and for a little while I felt like I would be okay!
But over the next few weeks the panic attacks increased, and the scenarios I would play out in my head became more intrusive and overwhelming. I didn’t really think about it being Post natal depression though because in my mind, I totally loved my son and we had an amazing bond, so surely it couldn’t be PND? Or could it?
Things came to a head on the night of what was to be our NCT Christmas meal. I had got myself ready, chose a cute festive elf outfit for Pea and we were minutes away from leaving the house. And I froze! I sat on the bottom steps in the hall and I couldn’t leave. I told my hubby to go and give the Secret Santa present then come back. I was gutted that I would miss the night but every fibre of my being was telling me I couldn’t leave. And it was in that very moment that I knew that I wasn’t ok. I needed to talk to someone. Instead of joining in with the Christmas celebrations, I ended up shutting myself in our bedroom and I took my first step to getting help – I called the Samaritans. The person on the other end of the phone listened to my rambling and eventually I began to feel calmer. Just having someone to listen helped!
The next morning I called my GP and health visitor (both of whom were immensely supportive and understanding) and within 24 hours I had started on anti-depressants to help manage my panic attacks having been diagnosed with Post Natal Depression with anxiety . I was also able to self refer for counselling and after a few months I started having weekly sessions which helped me understand more about what was going on. The panic attacks had lessened by that point thanks to the medication but the intrusive thoughts were still upsetting so having a talking therapy really helped!
It’s been just under 4 years now since I had my son and 2.5years since I had my daughter and second wave of PND (which manifested itself in a much more angry way!) but I finally feel like I can say I ‘had’ PND rather than I ‘have’ it. It’s been a long, often lonely journey but I have made it through the other side by being honest with myself and others, knowing that it’s okay not to be okay and with the love and support of so many people around me. Don’t suffer alone!
Helpful links –