Feeling many different emotions is normal after having a baby

Having a baby is a huge life event and a time of change for both you and your partner. It is normal to feel many different emotions during the transition to parenthood and having a baby.

For example, over half of all new mothers will experience what is known as the “baby blues”. Symptoms of the baby blues include feeling tearful, irritable, and overwhelmed at times and can last for about 10 days after having a baby. If you continue to experience these feelings beyond this, please speak to your health visitor, midwife or GP, it is possible that you are experiencing what is known as a perinatal mental illness. 

While depression and anxiety disorders are the most common perinatal mental illnesses, other conditions exist including eating disorders, birth trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, tokophobia (fear of pregnancy and childbirth), psychosis, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Perinatal mental health problems can affect mothers and fathers or partners from all cultural backgrounds. You can discuss how you are feeling with your health professional and they can offer you support.

Like many people, you may have experienced mental health difficulties prior to having a baby. 

It is important that you feel comfortable to speak to a relative or health professional if you have any concerns about yours or your partners mental health or you feel that your mental health is deteriorating.

Depression and anxiety can occur in both women and men during pregnancy and the postnatal period.

If you are experiencing depression you may feel a constant feeling of sadness and low mood, loss of interest in the world around you and you may no longer enjoy the things that used to give you pleasure.

You may also experience feelings of agitation, guilt, self-blame and difficulties in relating to your baby or partner.

You can discuss how you are feeling with your health professional and they can offer you support.

If you are experiencing anxiety (with or without depression), you may have excessive fear or worry, feel nervous or on edge, your sleep may be disturbed, and you may want to avoid certain situations.

Other relatively common mental health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can occur during pregnancy or after having a baby, this is known as perinatal OCD and can affect 3 in every 100 women.

Many pregnant women and new mothers have a normal increase in obsessive and compulsive
symptoms in relation to avoiding risks in pregnancy and looking after the wellbeing of their child. 

You may worry if you have normal, but unexpected, thoughts about your baby being harmed. For some mothers, these normal worries can trigger symptoms of OCD. These symptoms can start to interfere with daily life and bother you for an hour or more a day. 

Unwanted thoughts may relate to fear of dirt or germs, a thought of harming your baby or needing everything to be perfect. You may spend time carrying out rituals or compulsive behaviours to lessen your thoughts and anxiety. This may involve cleaning rituals, excessive checking, repeatedly seeking reassurance from others or avoiding situations.

You can discuss how you are feeling with your health professional and they can offer you support.

A small proportion of women may experience postpartum psychosis after giving birth (most often in the first two weeks, with symptoms beginning in the first few days of having a baby). It is a severe mental illness affecting 1 in every 1000 women. Most women with postpartum psychosis become ill very quickly and will require immediate treatment. Effective treatments are available and are usually provided by a specialist perinatal mental health team in a hospital known as a mother and baby unit.

Symptoms include feeling confused or disorientated, excited, elated, high, overactive, very energetic, talking a lot, being unable to go to sleep, anxious, paranoid or suspicious, and as the illness progresses hearing voices or seeing unusual phenomena and having unusual beliefs that could not be true. It is important that help is sought urgently if postpartum psychosis is suspected.

Perinatal mental health problems can make it difficult for you to relate to your baby and respond to their sleep patterns, feeding and emotional needs.

In addition, it can make relationships challenging between you and your partner. Your partner, relatives and friends may not know how best to support you. They can also speak to your health visitor or GP for advice.

It can be lonely, distressing and frightening, but there is a lot of support and treatment available. The good news is most perinatal mental health problems are temporary, they respond well to treatment and have an excellent recovery rate.

It is important to seek help if you think you are struggling with your mental health as it is unlikely to get better without support, and it could impact on the care of your baby.

Contact your health visitor, midwife or GP. They have experience in assessing and supporting parents with perinatal mental health problems. 

They will be able to carry out a full assessment by asking you several questions and may ask you to complete a questionnaire. This will enable them to offer you the best support.

Help is available in a range of different forms including self-help advice, talking support and psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and medication. For severe mental health problems your health visitor, midwife or GP can refer you to a specialist perinatal mental health team.

The DadPad app is an easy-to-use, freely downloadable resource for new dads and dads-to-be in the Derbyshire area, packed with relevant information, as well as details on local support groups and service providers.

The app also provides dads with guidance on how to support and seek help (when needed) for their partners and themselves as they adjust to their new roles, and cope with the physical and emotional strains that this can place on individuals and relationships.

The app covers topics such as:

  • Feeding, holding, changing and cleaning your baby
  • Surviving without sleep and coping with crying
  • Getting to know your baby
  • Home safety and first aid
  • Looking after yourself and supporting your partner

Although we hope that this DadPad will help you and your family with some of the questions and problems that may arise over the coming weeks, always remember that, if you are unsure about anything to do with your baby’s health, you should contact your midwife, health visitor or GP. 

Remember, too, that the health visitor service is not only for mum, but for dad as well, even if you are not all living together.

Download the app from the app store or Google Play. Once you’ve downloaded the app onto your device, you will be prompted to enter your Derbyshire postcode.