After giving birth

Mental health after birth: women’s stories

11 min read

Many women go through a difficult time after giving birth. Here, new mums share their experiences of postpartum mental health problems and how they found the support they needed to feel better.

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Find out how to seek help now if you, or someone close to you, are struggling emotionally after giving birth.

Postnatal depression – Abi’s story

The early weeks at home with my daughter, Phoebe, were really tough. She had trouble breastfeeding and didn’t sleep well at all. Both I and my husband were sleep deprived from being up through the nights.

I was tearful and numb. I felt as though I’d made a mistake having a baby, but there was nothing I could do about it. You can’t return a baby, there are no receipts given.

I didn’t have any postnatal appointments with a midwife, but when I went to my GP for my six-week check-up, they confirmed that this was more than just baby blues; I was suffering from postnatal depression.

We decided not to try any treatment at this point, as the GP thought that I might get better over time on my own. So I carried on with mothering and life in general as best I could.

“Having family and friends nearby was so important”

I felt jealous of my partner who got to go to work with adults rather than being home with the baby. Several times I had to call him and ask him to come home because I just couldn’t cope. He always did come and luckily had a very understanding employer.

The whole experience was really hard on him because he was up all night helping me with the night feeds, then had to go to work and still come back home if I needed him to.

My friends and family all live in the same town as us which was really helpful during this time, both practically and for having someone to talk to.

Sometimes, I’d appear on their doorstep with Phoebe and say that I needed to express milk and be left alone, and they looked after the baby for me, gave her cuddles, did nappy changes and anything else that needed doing.

I had a great NCT group and we met up every week, which was really nice and supportive, but I thought they must all be finding it as hard because they too were sleep deprived and their lives had also been taken over by a small child.

I knew I was feeling bad, but didn’t know if it was because of the postnatal depression or just because this is the way I was as a mother.

“I said: ‘I can’t do this, I just want to leave’”

When Phoebe was around eight months old, I finally said to my health visitor: “I can’t do this, something is wrong, I want to drop off Phoebe with my mum and just leave”.

At this point, the problems I was having were raised as a safeguarding issue and I had to seek help. I would never hurt Phoebe, but it was also clear that I needed more support.

My health visitor was great and recommended I sign up to a PND cognitive behaviour therapy course.

I also went to see my GP who prescribed anti-depressants and said that I wouldn’t know just how awful I’d been feeling until I started to feel better.

“The PND therapy and antidepressants both helped”

The CBT course was really helpful, there were three of us in the group who were all in similar situations. Over four sessions, we met up and talked about our thought patterns and why we feel the way we do after having a baby.

It made me realise that just because not everyone feels this way after giving birth, some people do, and it won’t last forever. Because when you’re in the middle of PND, you really do think it will never end.

I felt hesitant about starting the medication, I was worried about side effects and the stigma surrounding anti-depressants. But then I realised that if I were talking to someone else in the same situation, I would definitely advise them to start taking the medication to feel better.

I did experience some side effects but I could manage them. I also found that there were many people around me who were also on anti-depressants for various reasons, who I could talk to. That really helped too.

“When my daughter was ten months old I enjoyed spending time with her”

When Phoebe was around ten months I finally turned a corner and for the first time, I actually enjoyed spending time with her. She was so amusing, it was like having a little comedian of a toddler.

Now that Phoebe’s 17 months old, I feel fully recovered from my PND. When I think back, I feel like I wasted the first months of her life because I didn’t enjoy anything about being a parent.

I wish someone had put their foot in earlier and that I’d found help sooner. But I also know that it’s very difficult to listen to advice when you’re in that situation, worried that it’s something wrong with you as a mother and that it will go on forever.

“It’s ok to feel the way you do and you’re not failing”

I wish people in general were more mindful about the fact that many new mums do get postnatal depression. One of the things I always found hardest was people saying to me how wonderful it must be to have a baby, because to me it was the opposite.

If you’re someone who’s worried about a new mum near you, ask them how they’re feeling and just be there for them. I understand it can be really tough to know what to do and say, but just being available is such a big help.

I want to reassure anyone experiencing the same type of feelings that I had, whether diagnosed with PND or not, that it’s ok to feel the way you do and it doesn’t mean you’re failing as a parent.

However, you need to tell someone how you’re feeling. It doesn’t have to be your GP, a health visitor or a midwife – talk to somebody who you think will understand you.

Postnatal anxiety – Vikki’s story

My postnatal anxiety started just a few days after the birth. I couldn’t stop crying, and I didn’t want people around my baby or touching her.

I was constantly worried that something was wrong with her, or that something would happen to her and she’d be taken away or die.

I’d read about postnatal depression and how it can cause mothers to not bond with their babies, but my problem was quite the opposite. I was completely overwhelmed with feelings of love and wanting to protect my baby in every way possible.

People dismissed the type of feelings that I had as “you’re a new mum, of course you’re going to be worried” – but this was more than that.

“My health visitor referred me to the general mental health service”

I spoke to the midwife about the way I was feeling at one of my postnatal appointments and they extended the period when they’d see me from 10 to 28 days.

Later on, my health visitor got me a referral for the general mental health service, as the support available for new mothers with mental health problems is very stretched where I live.

Once the referral had been made by the health visitor, someone was sent over very quickly to listen to me and determine what the best treatment would be.

I was reluctant to take medication as I was breastfeeding, even though there is medication that you can take safely, so I’m receiving talking therapy (CBT) instead.

I’ve now had therapy for two weeks and it’s too early to say whether the treatment will be effective, but I hope that it will be. I want to be able to enjoy these months with my baby fully, and I don’t want my anxiety to rub off on her.

“Talk to your midwife if you’ve had anxiety in the past”

I’ve suffered from anxiety in the past, and now know that made me more likely to develop postnatal anxiety, but I didn’t really know that it was a thing when I was pregnant. I think it’s something that more mothers need to be aware of.

So if you’re a mum-to-be who’s had anxiety in the past, talk to your midwife about it at your antenatal appointments and make sure you know what support services are available and how to access them after the birth.

Postnatal anxiety can happen, but it is manageable and controllable. And there is support out there to help you through it, should you need it after your baby’s arrived.

Birth debrief – Laura’s story

About a month after I’d given birth to my daughter, I was chatting casually to the midwife that I’d seen throughout pregnancy about how I’d found my experience of the postnatal ward very difficult.

There were several aspects of the birth and my care afterwards that I wasn’t happy with, and my midwife encouraged me to fill in a feedback form for the hospital, which I did.

“Everything about the birth kept going around in my head”

I didn’t really expect to hear anything back, but soon afterwards I was contacted by one of the senior midwives who said that they were concerned about me and wanted to meet up for a birth debrief.

She gave me the options of going in to the hospital, for them to come to my home, or for me to go straight through the PALS complaint procedure. I chose for them to come to my home as felt more comfortable and was a lot easier with a newborn.

At that point, I was actually doing quite well and didn’t feel very upset about the birth.

But the days before the debrief everything about the birth kept going around in my head and talking to my boyfriend, it was clear he felt upset by some aspects of my care. I wrote down a list of questions that we wanted answers to from the midwives.

“The senior midwives were very thorough, professional and caring”

The senior midwife for the labour ward and the senior midwife for the postnatal ward both came for the debrief and brought along my labour notes.

They went through my birth from the moment I first called the hospital until I was discharged, with me and my boyfriend asking questions as we went along.

I found the midwives to be very thorough, professional and caring. They were able to answer questions about things that had happened that we hadn’t understood, or that hadn’t been explained to us at the time, as well as acknowledging that we should have been kept informed better.

The midwives also didn’t shy away from apologising about any shortcomings of the hospital. For example, one of my questions was why I kept being offered pethidine for pain relief, despite saying that I definitely didn’t want it.

The senior midwife said that she wasn’t sure why my midwife on the labour ward had been so persistent about pethidine, but that they had discussed it with her to make sure she wouldn’t talk the same way to other women.

“My boyfriend and I both found the debrief incredibly helpful”

A lot of our questions were answered that day, and we found a great deal of closure from the debrief.

If I hadn’t had the chance to talk through the experience with people who had my medical notes in front of them, I think it would still have been stuck in my head.

My boyfriend, who was my birth partner, also found the debrief incredibly helpful. He had a lot of questions of his own and was clearly very affected by the birth experience.

“The sudden drop-off of postnatal care was really hard”

A really flawed part of NHS maternity care for me is that you only get to see a midwife for a week or two after birth before you’re signed off from midwifery care. I found that sudden drop-off really hard emotionally, because you don’t feel like yourself after you’ve had a baby.

I was nowhere near recovered at that point and still had a lot of questions in the weeks to come about if what I was going through was normal.

Even though you can go see your GP, that’s not the same as seeing a midwife who’s knowledgeable about pregnancy, birth and the profound effect that it has on a woman.

So getting to see those two midwives for the debrief a couple of months after birth felt like more support than I otherwise would have got, and provided an opportunity to make sure that everything I was experiencing was actually to be expected.

Knowing it was normal so soon after the birth and having that extra support made me feel so much better.

“Birth debriefs should be offered to all new parents”

I’ve met a lot of new mums since having my daughter and most of them have found at least one part of birth very difficult. I’ve recommended the debrief to a lot of them.

A few of them have had one and they’ve all said how much better they felt after it.

Having the debrief was one of the most valuable things that I could have done for my mental health, and I think they should be offered to all new mums and dads to process their experiences after birth.

More from Which?

  • Mental health after birth: We go through how to spot the symptoms of PND, PTSD and other mental health problems.
  • Seeking help: Find out where to find help and support if you, or someone close to you, are struggling emotionally after birth.
  • Your rights during pregnancy and birth: Find out what your rights are, and how to access your maternity records and complain about your maternity care.
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