Bundle of joy or bundle of nerves?
A new mother, ohh-ah! Everyone gathers round cooing and chattering, wanting to hold the little bundle of joy. But it’s hard for Mum to appreciate their enthusiasm when she has had a total of six hours of sleep in the last two days, the stitches from her episiotomy are still hurting, her nipples are sore from nursing and she feels shell shocked from being 100% at the beck and call of this tiny demanding creature.
To top it all off, she has given up a $65,000 per year income to do this (on average), and is feeling anxious about her sudden loss of her former identity, having suddenly stepped off the fast track of her career for an unknown period. While others are huddling round her bundle of joy, she feels more like a bundle of nerves!
Meanwhile, the new Dad is 18 minutes late for work today, he has only had 8 hours sleep in the last two days, he is behind on two credit card payments, the rates are due, and he hasn’t had sex in 14 weeks, four days and six hours! Each evening, the minute he gets in the door, instead of being met by the well groomed and glamorous woman he knows, always ready to listen to his day and serve him a drink before dinner, now he is immediately handed a screaming baby who proceeds to puke up on his best business suit.
At the same time he is bombarded by his wife recounting the details of her frantic day while she runs to the bathroom calling out that she hasn’t had a chance to go all day. Then she is either depressed, stressed, fussing about the baby or falling asleep at the table. His needs, as the breadwinner and man of the house, now definitely come third, and it could be this way for a very long time.
“While there is nothing like the wonder of a brand new life, both parents may be privately wondering how they are going to cope”
The sleepless nights, the financial strain and the complete and sudden loss of social freedom may come as a rude shock. This can strain the best of couples, lead to exhaustion, depression and may drain the joy out of what was a healthy, happy relationship.
“Up to 80 per cent of women may develop what is called the ‘baby blues’ soon after having a baby”
This feeling passes in a day or two and is different to postnatal depression which typically comes on from a few weeks of the birth up to 12 months. Postnatal depression is most common after the first pregnancy. There are many causes including hormonal changes, emotional demands, lack of sleep, exhaustion and changed social situations. Even a relatively easy birth is an overwhelming experience for the female body. In addition, the sudden drop in pregnancy hormones affects brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) which are responsible for mood and wellbeing.
“On the emotional side, adapting to parenthood can be very daunting”
Not only is the new mother coping with the constant demands of a baby, a different dynamic to her relationship with her partner and the loss of her own independence, but at the same time she is still physically recovering from childbirth and coping with broken sleep.
As if that weren’t enough, society puts lots of demands and expectations on a new mother, which a woman may feel she needs to live up to. She may find herself less able to keep up contact with her friends and workmates and may be facing an unsettling drop in income as the couple adapts to suddenly living on one wage.
All these stresses compound one another, as she and her partner feel they are living in different worlds. She has to deal with a whole new rhythm to her days, a new identity, and may now need to find a new circle of friends who will understand and support her new needs.
If there are other children already, although the experience is not so new, each additional child places more demands on the parents and makes it harder to get time for themselves, alone, together, or just time to sleep.
Some of the symptoms of post natal depression may include:
- low self-esteem and lack of confidence
- feelings of inadequacy and guilt
- negative thoughts
- feeling that life is meaningless
- feeling unable to cope
- tearfulness and irritability
- difficulty getting to sleep
- extreme exhaustion from lack of sleep
- low sex drive
- panic attacks or heart palpitations
- loss of appetite
- difficulty concentrating or remembering things
Even without postnatal depression, some of these feelings may crop up from time to time.
Postnatal depression may create considerable strain in the relationship, even with a loving and patient partner. When depression enters the arena it is easy to feel the relationship has deteriorated beyond repair, but it is important not to make major life decisions at this time. Postnatal depression is temporary and once the condition lifts most relationships return to normal.
“Postnatal depression will often cause the woman to withdraw from everyone, including her baby”
It is important and helpful to know this is merely a symptom of the disorder and doesn’t mean that she is a ‘bad’ mother. Some people think that if bonding between the mother and child does not happen within the first few days or weeks of birth, it won’t happen at all. This is not the case.
The mother child bonding is an ongoing process. Once the depression lifts, the mother will be able to once again feel her full range of emotions and start to enjoy her baby.
However, there are interventions which may help recovery, and the sooner this happens the better that will be for mother, baby and of course the father and any other children.
Support and patience from family and friends is perhaps the most crucial factor in a woman’s recovery.
“Talking about her feelings, particularly with other women in support groups or to a professional counsellor, can be helpful”
In more severe cases, anti-depressants and other medications might be used to bring about a change in mood. There are also more natural ways to alter mood without resorting to pharmaceuticals. Just taking space to have a massage, some gentle exercise, time for herself, may make a big difference to some women.
Of course some parents reading this will scoff: “time! That’s exactly what the problem is. There is no time!” Its true. Being a new parent can feel like you don’t have time to scratch yourself, let alone being able to have an afternoon off or get a good nights sleep.
One option that is ideal for parents and children of any age is a program called Sound Therapy, which is designed for home use and is played through headphones on a portable player.
It requires no time out of the day since the sound is played very quietly during other activities such as reading, sleeping, housework, breastfeeding or gentle exercise. It uses classical music with specially filtered high frequencies to gently stimulate the auditory pathways and balance brain centres.
The program was designed by an ear doctor and is used in many situations including special needs classrooms, for sleep disorders, to enhance learning and to improve hearing.
Its inventor, Dr Alfred Tomatis, was a pioneering researcher on the mother-child relationship. He established that the baby forms its first acoustic relationship with the mother in the first four months of gestation.
“The ear is one of the first organs to form in utero”
As hearing begins, the foetus tunes into the mothers voice, which plays a significant role in laying down the first pathways in the cortex of the brain. The newly forming baby attunes to the mothers voice, and this actually creates the basic brain structure which will form the foundation of all the child’s future language abilities.
The brain grows like a tree so the first pathways to form become the fundamental structure for future knowledge, as the tree trunk and large branches later carry all the twigs and leaves.
The first sounds received by the embryonic ear are the high frequencies, or high tones. The Sound Therapy program enhances high frequency perception and in this way links the listeners to their earliest experience of sound in the womb. Dr Tomatis found that by enhancing auditory perception, the program could accelerate learning, improve communication, and speed development.
The side benefits are reduced stress, improved sleep and better overall wellbeing. This is because when the brain is stimulated with concentrated high frequency sounds, neurons fire more easily, memory, mood and response times improve, so coping with life’s demands becomes easier.
This type of portable therapy may offer exactly what new parents need. Sound Therapy has been found to bring on deep sleep more quickly, and because it gives a better quality of sleep, the person can function well on between one and three fewer hours of sleep per night.
“The high frequency stimulation may also help to increase neurotransmitters, helping to reduce in depression and anxiety”
The direct brain recharge achieved by high frequency sound also improves energy levels, making it much easier to cope with a highly demanding daily schedule, disturbed sleep and the need for new emotional responses.This makes Sound Therapy a very suitable choice for parents of newborns. Listening during sleep is the best way to make the most of the limited and interrupted time available for sleep.
The soft sound will not prevent you form hearing the baby cry, but will quickly soothe you back to sleep after an interruption in the small hours.
Most listeners report waking feeling surprisingly refreshed after just a few hours using Sound Therapy overnight. Sound Therapy is offered through a range of specialised health clinics by practitioners ranging from nurses and teachers to audiologists, naturopaths and physiotherapists.
“Fathers need support too”
Whilst postnatal depression in women has received extensive attention, the question of whether fathers also experience post natal depression is seldom asked. In fact it does occur and a study reported in The Lancet found that if fathers are depressed in the months following birth there is a higher incidence of later behaviour problems, particularly in boys.
The new role of parent can be very challenging for men as they enter an unfamiliar realm, experience the loss of social freedoms, yet may feel on the outside of the close maternal bond.
Sound Therapy may also be a good option for fathers as it can help enhance communication and bring a deep peace and sense of belonging, plus assisting with focus, concentration and the ability to stay calm under stress.
While keeping a good diet may be a challenge at such times, it can make a big difference to the new mother’s wellbeing and may make things easier in the long run. It is important to eat a lot of fresh vegetables, salads and in particular leafy greens at this time.
Fresh nuts and seeds, rolled oats and fish are good foods to include for their specific nutrient value. Avoid caffeine and alcohol as much as possible. Caffeine is a chemical stimulant that can induce feelings of anxiety and have an adverse effect on the nervous system if taken in large amounts. Chamomile is a soothing herb that has a restorative effect on nervous debility, exhaustion and depression.
Some good multi vitamin and mineral supplements may also make a big difference in helping to meet the extra demands on the body and energy levels. The B group vitamins are needed for energy.
Vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E are antioxidants which help ‘mop up’ damaging molecules in the body (free radicals). Higher quality supplements contain more potent forms of these antioxidants such as pine bark extract, grape seed extract and curcuminoids.
Magnesium and calcium are required for proper functioning of the nervous system.
Iron is suggested if you are anaemic (iron deficient) and this can be confirmed by a simple blood test. However, since the body needs at least 60 trace minerals to meet all its requirements, a broad spectrum colloidal mineral supplement may be the best source to ensure the full requirements are met.
“A good diet will help to re-establish hormone balance after the birth”
This balance can also be assisted by herbal remedies, sometimes applied as a skin cream, using herbs such as wild yam and chaste tree berry, which, according to research by Dr John Lee and others, work with the body’s natural inbuilt processes to balance the biochemistry.
If parenting is proving more of a challenge than you thought, or if you just think you could use some caring support, a shoulder to cry on or a good night’s sleep, don’t struggle on alone. The better care you take of yourself, the better it will be for your baby.
Remember, the parents must be well resourced to give the baby all it needs, so make that extra effort to treat yourselves to an evening out, a pampering spa, a weekend away, a massage, an occasional baby sitter, some good supplements or a natural therapy treatment. Happy parents make happier children.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Professional counsellors
- Contact your local hospital, many offer support for women (and their families) who are affected by PND
- The Maternal and Child Health Line is a free call available in each State Tel. Vic 132 229, NSW 132 055 Qld 1800 017 676
- Natural therapy centres
- Sound Therapy International national enquiry line (local call cost) 1300 55 77 96
- Find other resources on www.bubhub.com.au or www.soundtherapy.com.au