What is it and where can you find help here in Luxembourg?
Having a baby is commonly held as a magical time but with around one in ten mums and dads being affected by postnatal depression, the challenges of becoming a new parent or expanding your family can take their toll. Here we explore what we mean by postnatal depression, possible treatments and what support is available here in Luxembourg.
Postnatal depression can seem like one of the last taboos of motherhood. Many new mums are quite happy to talk about the changes that becoming a mum has wreaked on their bodies. Weight gain, changing breasts & weakened pelvic can include some of the less glamorous aspects of becoming a mum but, interestingly, most mums do not seem shy about admitting this or talking about it. The psychological changes of motherhood however seem more difficult for us to acknowledge or to talk about.
In fact, making the psychological transition to being a mum can be just as challenging for many new mums as the practical aspects of baby care such as feeding, and loss of sleep. Taking all these factors in to account, perhaps it is not surprising that postnatal depression (PND) is relatively common amongst parents with a young baby, with statistics suggesting that around one in ten mums are likely to be affected. However as many women do not seek professional help this figure could well be a significant under estimate.
Mums can be affected after their first baby, second time around or after subsequent births and just because you have had PND once does not mean you will definitely be affected again. It is also important to acknowledge that dads can suffer from PND too. Whichever parent is suffering from PND, the reality is postnatal depression is an illness which may have an impact on the whole family unit.
When those we love are poorly, we are anxious, we worry about them and try and offer extra support. However, one potential sign of PND is that it can leave the sufferer feeling detached from those close to them, possibly feeling hostile or indifferent to their partner and/or baby. The good news is there are lots of things that can help improve the symptoms of postnatal depression.
What is Postnatal Depression?
Before we look at what can help, some definitions may be helpful. PND is a depressive illness that affects around 1 in ten parents. It can affect mums, dads, second/third etc time parents. It is in no way a weakness or a comment on your parenting skills. Many famous and high profile parents have been affected including Gwyneth Paltrow and Brooke Shields who have both spoken about their experiences of PND.
Baby Blues – Many new mums suffer from their baby blues in the first week or so of becoming a new mother. Baby blues are typically characterised by tearfulness and mild to moderate anxiety about new responsibilities. Generally these feelings pass within a few weeks.
Postnatal Depression – If feelings of sadness and helplessness do not dissipate or anxiety increases this could be a sign of postnatal depression. PND Can affect new parents in the first months after giving birth however, it can take several months to develop. The following symptoms may be indicators of PND – if you recognise one or more of the points below as applying to you or your partner then read on to find out what may help
Puerperal Psychosis – Very rarely, a new mum may experience this extremely severe form of postnatal depression requiring immediate treatment by a Doctor.
Some Common Symptoms of Postnatal Depression:
- Feeing very low, or despondent, that life is a long, grey tunnel,
- Feeling tired and very lethargic & not wanting to do anything or take an interest in the outside world.
- Feeling unable to cope or even inadequate
- Feeling guilty about not coping, or about not loving baby enough.
- Being unusually irritable which can also make guilty feelings worse
- Crying a lot or even constantly or just wanting to cry a lot
- Having obsessive and irrational thoughts which can be very scary.
- Losing your appetite, which may go with feeling hungry all the time, but being unable to eat.
- Have difficulty sleeping: either not getting to sleep, waking early, or having vivid nightmares.
- Feeling hostile or indifferent to their partner and/or baby.
- Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches or panic attacks
- Having obsessive fears about the baby’s health or wellbeing, or about themselves and other members of the family.
- Having disturbing thoughts about harming themselves or their baby.
What causes Postnatal Depression?
There is no one cause but factors such as challenging personal circumstances (money worries or an uninvolved or unsupportive partner); having experienced a difficult labour; antenatal depression and experiencing high levels of anxiety can all increase the likelihood if being affected by PND.
Likewise, the increased pressures that parenthood brings, coupled with lack of sleep, changing hormones and the responsibility of caring for a baby 24/7 could also contribute.
In short, anyone can be affected and PND is no indicator of what sort of parent you will make or how good you will be at it!
Feelings of isolation and a lack of support can also be a contributory factor so when you are living as an Expat your support networks as a new parent are extra important which leads us to…
Importance of Seeking Help
Mental health issues are thankfully no longer the taboo they once were but many new mums find it hard to admit to others, and maybe even to themselves, that they are struggling with low mood or postnatal depression. It can’t be emphasised enough that PND has no bearing on whether or not you are a good parent – depression is an illness and the good news is it can respond very well to support and treatment. Talking to someone you trust really is the first step on the journey to getting better.
What can help?
The suggestions below really apply to all parents with a young baby but are particularly important if you think you may be affected by PND.
Feeling listened to and understood by a sympathetic listener can be very cathartic. If you can’t talk to the people closest to you face to face then try and make time for regular phone or Skype conversations. If you feel you need more support talk to your doctor or one of the health professionals listed below or come along to one of the postnatal groups offered by Well Baby Clinic.
It can also be helpful to speak to your Doctor and admit how you are feeling. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with your Doctor or don’t feel they are taking your concerns seriously then consider finding another Doctor. There are lots of excellent Doctors here in Luxembourg including English speaking GPs and a personal recommendation from a friend can sometimes help you to find a medical practitioner who is on your wave length.
Build a network and accept offers of support
Not surprisingly, a good support network can be a positive factor that will buffer against PND. This can be increasingly important when you are living as an Expat and are, most likely, living in another country from parents, aunts, uncles and old friends. If people offer to help out with household chores or baby care to give you some time to yourself then try and accept. Likewise it can help to have regular social events with your baby whether that’s a mum and baby group you go to most weeks or meeting a friend for a walk or lunch.
Look after yourself
You feel better when you are eating healthy food and taking exercise. The irony is life as a new parent can leave little time for this. Thinking about quick and easy meals and snacks such as scrambled eggs on toast, rice cakes and hummous and fruit which can be grabbed and eaten on the go can help keep you going until you have more time and energy to spend on food. Exercise is just as important. Try and get out for a walk every day. Exercise releases endorphins which make us feel better and research shows that babies sleep better at night if they’ve spent time outdoors during the day. You could also try one of the many mum and baby exercise groups on offer here in Luxembourg and make some new friends while you exercise.
Counselling and Therapy
Counselling, and therapy techniques such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive therapy have all been shown to be helpful in treatment of PND and a potential alternative or complement to medication. Unfortunately not all talking therapies will be covered by the CNS but private health insurance may offer cover.
Medication can be an effective treatment to PND. Some women are not keen to take anti-depressants because they are worried about how it will affect breast feeding. If so, talk to your doctor about the options and if you feel it is appropriate explore the alternatives. Usually you will take antidepressants for a minimum of 6 months as it can take a little while for them to become effective. It’s also important that you come off the medication slowly, under the guidance of your doctor. Some women find medication a huge help in treating their depression.
Where to go for help in Luxembourg?
Help in the early days – Sage Femme Liberales: All women who give birth here are entitled to a home visit from a community midwife, called a Sage Femme Liberale. She can advise you about caring for your baby and about caring for yourself and your moods and emotions. If you feel like you would benefit from more midwife visits you can ask your doctor for a prescription or ‘ordinance’ for up to 10 more home visits, the cost of which can be reimbursed by CNS.
Groups: Building a new parent support network here in Luxembourg can really help to make the transition to parenthood easier. Once you know where to look there are lots of friendly groups and fun activities to get involved with as a new parent here in Luxembourg.
Initiativ Liewensufrank: are a Luxembourg organisation, who exist to support parents through pregnancy, birth and the early years of life as a parent. They offer parenting courses, playgroups and counselling services in Luxembourgish, French, German and, on request, English. They also have a phone and email helpline you can contact for support.
Ligue medico-sociale: are a Luxembourg organisation who provide medical and social support to families, similar to that offered by Health Visitors in the UK. They offer monthly consultations in a variety of locations around the country where parents of children aged 0-4 years can go for advice on parenting and feeding. A list of locations and times can be found on their website.
Well Baby Clinic of Luxembourg: is an asbl (Luxembourgish equivalent of a charity) that offers a range of postnatal groups where you can meet other new mums and talk honestly about your feelings.
Further Information: Online Support and Resources
As well as the organisations listed above, the web sites below can provide more information and support:
www.nct.org.uk/parenting – advice and information on parenting issues from conception to 2 years.
http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/postnataldepression – information on PND, symptoms and treatments.
www.apni.org – Association for Postnatal Illness.
www.sheilakitzinger.com/birthcrisis.htm – Birth crisis network for women affected by a traumatic birth.
www.pandasfoundation.org.uk – pre and postnatal depression advice and support for families.
http://postpartum.net/ – international organisation supporting those affected by postnatal depression.
www.bliss.org.uk – for parents of premature or sick babies
www.gingerbread.org.uk – support for single parents. Although some of the pointers relate to UK benefits there are also fact sheets on emotional issues.
www.thecoupleconnection.org.uk – relationship advice and support.
Article by: Kate Ensor, who is a coordinator for Passage and a postnatal group facilitator & childbirth educator at the Well Baby Clinic of Luxembourg.
Last updated: Friday 17th April, 2015