5 factors that'll increase your risk of post-natal depression

Beware mums-to-be, your risk of getting post-partum depression increases if you tick any of these categories.

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Almost 6 months after giving birth to her baby, Lindy Soh, 26, felt blindsided when she was told that she might have postnatal depression (PND). In fact, the young mum, who thought it was a bad case of the baby blues, decided to get a second opinion just to prove her doctor wrong.

“It was my baby’s paed who brought up the topic and I thought he was overreacting. Yes, I was struggling with being a new mum ― who wasn’t ― but that didn’t mean I was depressed,” recalls Soh.

However, after an hour-long sit-down with a counsellor, Soh was told the same thing ― she had a mild case of PND. “I was in shock because I thought only women who had a negative experience with motherhood or a bad pregnancy got post-partum depression,” adds Soh. “I had a drama-free pregnancy and birth and was very happy to have a baby. How did I end up getting postnatal depression?”

PND can hit anyone, at any time and it usually happens within the first year of childbirth. It’s very often confused with the baby blues, which is a more common and milder form of depression that usually disappears after the first few weeks of baby’s birth.

PND can begin slowly, with symptoms varying from person to person. The most common signs to look out for are: Mood swings; anxiety; crying for no reason; lack of energy; and losing interest in everything, including baby.  

Left untreated, PND won’t just interfere with a mum’s ability to care for and bond with her baby, but can also end with her taking her own life out of sheer hopelessness. Sadly, many mums who choose this path also take their babies with them in the process.

The good news is that we live in a time where mental health, especially maternal mental health, is getting more awareness. While no one know what exactly causes PND, there are certain factors that can increase a woman’s risk of falling victim to this disease. Here are five to keep in mind…

“A woman who has a loving mother helping her, looking after her needs…will feel very differently from a woman who has no family support or troublesome family members.”

#1 Bad pre-menstrual symptoms

Hormones definitely play a big factor in PND, notes counsellor Silvia Wetherell, who specialises in maternal mental health. You will experience a dramatic drop in oestrogen, progesterone and endorphins right after birth and this can trigger depression the same way premenstrual (PMS) changes produce mood swings. No single hormonal factor has been medically proven to distinguish those who develop PND and those who don’t. However, if you’re more sensitive to hormonal changes, you may be at higher risk. “So, if you are someone who has experienced a lot of hormonal fluctuations before becoming a mother, like really bad PMS, you’re more likely to suffer from PND that’s related to hormones later on,” points out Wetherell. By the way, hormonal sensitivity can also differ from woman to woman. Some will experience an almost immediate onset of depression which will crash down on them after childbirth, while others will feel their mood worsening as motherhood and childbirth recovery overwhelms them. Then, there are also womens who carry their untreated pregnancy depression into the post-partum phase.

#2 Experiencing stressful life events   

Environmental factors can also contribute to a woman’s state of mind, and they can manifest in a variety of scenarios. “A difficult pregnancy, difficulty in conceiving, taking a long time to have a baby, difficulties in the relationship ― like if the couple is arguing a lot and the marriage is unstable ― can all play a part in causing PND,” Wetherell states. In her line of work, Wetherell also counsels women who lack practical and emotional support, plus, those who get the wrong kind of support. “A woman who has a loving mother helping her, looking after her needs and guiding her with the baby will feel very differently from a woman who has no family support or troublesome family members,” says Wetherell. Drowning in debt or worrying about making ends meet with a new mouth to feed can also trigger maternal depression. So can experiencing the recent death of someone close, even if it’s the passing of a beloved family dog.