Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

2 December 2012

Tanzania: Public Unaware of Postnatal Depression

MOB justice which is common in executing thieves has now extended to some other cases in our society. Unfortunately, it is targeting postnatal depression victims.

Recently I was shocked to see footage of a woman who is alleged to have buried her offspring immediately after giving birth. The scene which appeared on one of the local channels was so disturbing, given that there was an immediate reaction from the public condemning the woman and even wishing her elimination.

Cameras also focused on several people who condemned the unfortunate woman. What a pity some of them were her fellow women. Some claimed that she was a killer. Others judged her character and so forth and so forth. The mob was fully charged which means that anything could have happened to the lady who was desperate and looked confused and depressed.

Fortunately the police had arrived on time to intervene and probably even save her life. A week before this episode along Narung'ombe Street in Kariakoo area, another woman who later was identified to have sneaked out of Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) maternity ward was also manhandled by an angry mob. She had left her baby in the ward and decided to look for a sanctuary.

She was found under a vehicle sleeping that night. There was every indication that she was on the verge of committing suicide. The members of the public who attempted to slap her and other pulled her from underneath the vehicle, had shown no mercy at that time. It is because they were furious that if the guards had not noted her presence the owner of the car could have crashed her to death without any knowledge.

But often the public is ignorant of such reactions after a woman gives birth. It is easy for someone to judge the women who behave crazily without tracing the psychological problems that emanate from giving birth. Not many people are aware of the emotional Health for Parents or Common Emotional Problems as experts analyse.

A government of Western Australia Department of Health website mentions that a number of emotional problems can arise when you're pregnant or have had a baby. As many of us have witnessed from time to time that sometimes these emotional problems are all bundled together and just termed 'postnatal depression.'

Medical experts say that this conclusion is incorrect and can be misleading - especially since problems can arise during pregnancy (antenatally) too! Some of the most common emotional problems are: Baby Blues, adjustment problems, attachment problems, anxiety (antenatal anxiety and postnatal anxiety) as well as Depression (antenatal depression and postnatal depression). Some doctors that I spoke to recently told me that Baby Blues occur during the first week after birth, up to 80 per cent of mothers will get the Baby Blues.

This was typical of the two women who were condemned by the public without any right for them to defend themselves. Imagine if the media especially those cameras that were focusing on the lady who had buried her kid had taken some effort to bring in experts to discuss the plight of the women it would have enlightened the public to sympathise with such victims.

An old grand, Hawa who resides in Kariakoo, told me that usually after a woman delivers it is a time when new mothers are quite sensitive and they might cry, be irritable, feel anxious and have mood swings. Experts say that these symptoms tend to peak 3-5 days after delivery. They are mainly caused by hormonal changes after childbirth and normally go away within a few days without any special treatment.

Then what can be done to save such women from public wrath or mob justice. Experts say that things that can help include understanding, support and help with learning how to care for a baby. If symptoms go on longer than 2 weeks, it could be the start of postnatal depression. But do our hospitals have the capacity to deal with this situation. We always read of the nurses and medical practitioners being overwhelmed.

One thing that the traditional midwifery can help is to support the mothers to adjustment to her problems. Such people have the counselling expertism which can help a lot. But I think there should be some training on handling such postnatal depressions to every family and the members of the public. It is worth for more programmes to run on our local television, newspapers and radios.

Also schools should be included in such sensitisation programme on postnatal depression. Experts argue that every parent goes through a period of adjustment as they try to handle the huge changes a baby brings. For most people, this time of adjustment will be temporary and not really interfere with their daily life. For others, adjusting to life with a baby can take a long time and cause a lot of distress.

When this is the case, talking to a health professional can be helpful. After the birth, most people expect an instant bond with their baby, but for some parents, this doesn't happen. It may take a few days or even weeks to feel a connection to your baby and this can create feelings of guilt, stress and disappointment for parents. When a parent feels little or no connection to their baby, they may be 'distant' or "withdrawn' and behave negatively toward the baby. Usually, with support and rest, most parents will feel more attached to their baby within a few days.

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