DUBAI // Medical staff should be better trained to give new mothers the proper care and attention they need to ensure they are mentally and emotionally ready to take care of their child, experts have said, to prevent cases of postnatal depression.
The condition is a clinical depression that can affect mothers after childbirth. In the UK and the US one in 10 women develop postnatal depression (PND) up to a year after giving birth, according to figures from the UK’s National Health Service and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US.
In the UAE, doctors and support groups say that figure is one is five.
Hormonal changes after giving birth are normal, but for some woman clinical depression can develop. However, if the signs are spotted quickly, and women encouraged to get help, it can be dealt with.
“Obstetricians, gynaecologists and midwives need to be informed about warning signs of post-partum depression and how to support women who are suffering,” said Dr Yaseen Aslam, a psychiatrist and medical director at The Lighthouse Arabia, a community mental health clinic in Dubai.
“There needs to be more training for medical students about accessing, managing and working with patients who suffer from perinatal psychiatric disorders,” said Dr Aslam.
There are many possible reasons for PND, including hormonal changes after giving birth, as well as emotional and psychological factors.
Symptoms include changes in sleep patterns, anxiety, irritability, feelings of sadness, worthlessness, guilt, hostility, loss of concentration, lack of appetite, and suicidal thoughts.
Sometimes women will be reluctant to seek help because of the stigma that is attached to depression, said Dr Aslam.
“Often I see patients at a late stage because there is a lot of stigma and natural resistance to accessing specialist care,” said the psychiatrist.
Andrea Allen, a 42-year-old mother from the UK, developed PND after the birth of her daughter seven years ago. The infant spent the first eight days of her life in neonatal intensive care.
She said hospital staff were unable to offer the help she needed because of their hectic schedules and “back-to-back appointments”.
Ms Allen said: “Unfortunately women don’t get time to say how they’re feeling. No one asked if I was OK. No information was shared with me. I was convinced if I couldn’t see my daughter and keep her safe she would die. I was terrified.”
Ms Allen, who addressed the Midwifery Conference at the Obs-Gyn Exhibition and Congress at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre on Monday, said that after six months of feeling “suicidal” she reached out to doctors, who said she had PND.
“There should be support for women like me in Dubai,” said Ms Allen, who has set up Out of the Blues, a support group for new mothers. “No one should go through this journey alone.”
N F, 34, a consultant working in Abu Dhabi, suffered from postnatal depression two and a half years ago. She recovered thanks to the support of her family.
“I was anxious and worried and panicking but I told myself I had to be the strong mum. I had to convince myself not to be ashamed of this before I told others. You need the support and acknowledgement, otherwise it’s very difficult,” she said.