New fathers have been known to mutter that they cant do anything right. If they pay too much attention to the baby the mothers feelings are hurt; and if they dont fuss over the baby they are accused of not caring about their child. It is normal, it is to be expected, but you will need the diplomatic skill of a statesman to do the right thing when a new mother is in the grip of the notorious third day blues. Very few women escape the experience altogether, even though it does not always happen on the third day. Sometimes it happens sooner, sometimes later; either way some form of postnatal depression is a grim reality for most women. It even affects adoptive mothers for reasons other than hormonal changes. Some women are lucky; they settle down after a while, maybe in a day or two, but occasionally it takes much longer and it can become so serious that women have been known to contemplate suicide when those around have not realised the severity of the depression.

Dealing with depression. Firstly, the condition must be recognised for what it is. Simply knowing that the other mothers in the ward are also weeping into their pillows at the slightest provocation can be a comfort. Talking to them and sharing your misery will help you get it in perspective. But most of all you need the understanding of your husband who will be at the receiving end of your confusion, even though he may be feeling somewhat neglected himself. A lot of patience and sympathetic handling are needed to help restore a depressed womans equilibrium.

How physical discomfort adds to the problem. It is often a rude shock to find that having a baby can leave you feeling battered and bruised. Episiotomy stitches can be painful. Ask for an air ring to sit on, add salt to your bath water and use a local anaesthetic spray or jelly such as 1 per cent lignocaine if necessary on episiotomy stitches. If you have severe afterpains (74) in the uterus when the baby sucks, take a pain killer 15 minutes before feeds (codeine can be constipating – paracetamol is best). If your breasts are hard and sore, follow the procedures explained under Engorgement on p. 76. If you have been shaved and the area is itchy, an application of the preparatory shaving cream men use should relieve it.

Haemorrhoids (piles) can be an unpleasant legacy of pregnancy; use an air ring and speak to your doctor about it. They usually subside fairly quickly after delivery; however, if you have had several children you might have to have an injection to cure them, although this is usually given only after a few months.

Most of all, if you are worried about the baby, dont be afraid to discuss your fears with a doctor. Chances are feeding problems will be your main concern. Hospital routines are not conducive to the establishment of breast feeding and you will probably get a lot of conflicting if well-meant advice. You may even feel that the staff are not handling your precious baby with the deference she deserves or you may be intimidated by a domineering matron. You could be worried sick because your baby is too sleepy to suck or still in an incubator. Talk about your feelings to someone who understands – you will probably cry buckets but you need to release the tension of the climactic build-up of birth.

If your room is flooded with bouquets, make sure they are removed at night and bear in mind the fact that the cold you have developed may be an allergic reaction to the flowers. If your baby is in a communal nursery you will have one big advantage – being able to rest. Dont spend your time wandering around the corridors; write your thank you notes and rest as much as you can. Take the opportunity of asking the nurses about anything that worries you. If you are rooming in with your baby you will be expected to bath and care for her after being shown how; however, not all nursing homes which keep babies in communal nurseries teach the mother about looking after her child and you may go home never having seen how your baby is bathed or her nappy is changed. Whether your baby is with you all the time or not, take every opportunity you get to have her close to you. Hold her in your arms or tuck her in next to you in bed. She wants and needs to be close to her mother.

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