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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Do I still have postnatal depression?

    My partner and I have a 3 year old, Billy. I got postnatal depression with him as there were issues like lactose intolerant, I got a fistula and Billy also got colic. My partner still says I'm not right in the head. I used to shower every day, but now I dont. My last head doctor said I have self esteem issues. I have never been like this. I am 34. I'm normally a joking around person.
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  • 1


    Dr Kate Lemerle


    Kate is a Psychologist with 40 years' diverse experience as a practitioner and educator. She established Chrysalis Wellness Services (now operating as Chrysalis Counselling and … View Profile

    Postnatal depression is commonly misdiagnosed by GPs - most new mothers will experience the “baby blues” within the first year of their infant's birth. This is (as we understand) partly related to hormonal fluctuations as your body readjusts after pregnancy and childbirth. However I see a lot of new mothers (especially first-time mothers like yourself) who are suffering the consequences of sleep disturbance. Your brain is designed to follow a 24-hour “circadian rhythm” (or body clock) with sleep-wake cycles set so that normally you'd be at rest (sleeping) when your brain is directing the production of many hormones and biochemicals in your body, production of new cells, and cleaning up. You also need at least 2-3 three-hour REM (deep cleep) cycles per night for your brain to “reboot” and for the hippocampus to do its thing like laying down memories and processing incoming information (like sorting the day's “stuff” into the right folders and filing cabinet drawers). When these cycles are broken - as is the case with a new baby - after a short period of time you begin feeling less mentally alert, more confused and indecisive, more reactive to outside events (like people's insensitive comments), unmotivated, and so on. These are all consistent symptoms with Depression, but they will typically disappear when you have a couple of good night's sleep, whereas with Depression these symptoms linger or get worse.

    You mentioned a “head doctor” - I'm not sure if you mean a psychologist but if you have been seeing a psychologist I'd strongly urge you to go back and address his or her suggestions for the reasons you're not showering and still feel unhappy. Often outsiders have a different perspective on our circumstances than we do ourselves when we're still swamped by them. For example, the quality of your relationship with your partner, and the degree of satisfaction you're having being a mum, will all affect your mood and ultimately the way you behave. It's hard to stay motivated to take care of yourself if you're discontent in many areas of your life - we call this “hopelessness” and this can lead to “helplessness”, which means we just give up. In addition, a psychologist will be able to look at all your lifestyle risk factors - including sleep patterns - and help to identify the causes of your distress, then work with you to make changes so you get back to being the person you were.

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