Feeling sad and weepy after your baby is born is more common than you think. But when do these feelings of sadness signal something more serious? We spoke with reproductive psychiatrist Dr. Edith Agius who explained what the baby blues are, and when and where to seek professional help in Malta.
Why do I feel sad after having my baby?
As Dr. Edith explains, “following childbirth, women may experience postpartum disorders that can affect their mental health.” Pregnancy and the postpartum (the time after your baby is born) are characterised by high hormonal changes and fluctuations. These could cause new mums to feel intense mood swings, more commonly known as ‘the baby blues’. “It appears that about 50 to 80% of women experience postpartum blues during the first few weeks after delivery”, observes Dr. Edith. “Given how common this type of mood disturbance is, it may be more accurate to consider the blues as a normal experience following childbirth, rather than a psychiatric illness.”
This means you’re not alone in feeling unhappy during what is expected to be a joyous life event. You’re going through many physical and emotional changes, all while feeling exhausted. You may also be feeling anxious about your baby’s well-being, the changes your body is going through, your new role as a mother, and adjusting to a new lifestyle. It’s a lot to take in, so give yourself grace as you navigate this time.
What are the symptoms of postpartum blues?
Dr. Edith explains that, “rather than feelings of sadness, women with the blues more commonly report mood lability, tearfulness, anxiety or irritability. These symptoms typically peak on the fourth or fifth day after delivery and may last for a few hours or a few days, remitting spontaneously within two weeks of delivery. While these symptoms are unpredictable and often unsettling, they do not interfere with a woman’s ability to function.”
How can I feel better?
There’s no specific treatment for the baby blues, but rest and support from those around you can help you feel better and less exhausted. While we all know there’s no such thing as ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’, in the immediate postpartum, even a 10-minute nap can help. A short walk outside (provided your doctor has given you the all-clear, especially if you’ve had a c-section), can do wonders for your mood.
How do I know if it’s the baby blues or something more serious?
If your symptoms persist for more than two weeks, then it could potentially be a more serious issue. As Dr. Edith notes, “sometimes the blues herald the development of a more significant mood disorder, particularly in women who have a history of depression.” So if the feelings of sadness do not abate, you should seek help to rule out more serious disorders, such as postpartum depression or psychosis.
Where can I get mental health support in Malta?
There are various local organisations, support services and health professionals who can support your mental health during pregnancy and after having a baby.
- Your GP
- Your Midwife or Obstetrician
- The Perinatal Mental Health Clinic at Mater Dei Hospital
- Community Mental Health Clinics
- Psychiatric Emergency Service at Mater Dei Hospital
Connect with yourself
In the whirlwind that is new parenthood, it’s important that you check in on yourself from time to time. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed, confused and emotional in the early days – many new parents experience the same.
More importantly, do not feel guilty or ashamed to seek support from experts and those around you. Professionals like Dr. Edith Agius and the teams at the community mental health clinics and the Perinatal Mental Health Clinic at Mater Dei are there to support you. And in all of this, remember, you’re doing a great job.
Dr Edith Agius graduated as a Doctor in Medicine & Surgery from the University of Malta in 2014. She is currently specialising in Psychiatry and is reading a Masters in Perinatal Mental Health with Sheffield Hallam University. Currently, she is working at the Mosta Community Mental Health Clinic and the Perinatal Mental Health Clinic at Mater Dei Hospital. Her main areas of interest are General Adult and Perinatal Psychiatry. She is a committee member and serves the PRO role in the Parent-Infant Mental Health Alliance NGO and is the founder of the Instagram page ‘Reproductive Psychiatry‘.
Learn more about your mental health in the postpartum period in further articles from our Maternal Mental Health Series:
Maternal Mental Health: Where to Find Help in Malta
Common Perinatal Mental Health Issues and How to Identify Them