Having children

Looking after yourself post-partum

For a range of reasons, even the most resilient woman can become emotionally vulnerable after childbirth. For women with HIV, the overwhelming life changes brought about by a new baby can be compounded by anxiety about the future.


The joy of giving birth may also bring self-doubt, exhaustion, and guilt about any negative feelings you may have. If your delivery did not go as planned, you may feel some disappointment, pain or anger. The constant demands of an infant combined with your recovery from childbirth can be exhausting. You may have nagging fears that your child has HIV despite evidence to the contrary. That anxiety is very understandable, especially as your baby will need to continue to be tested for HIV until 18 months of age. Make sure you get your paediatrician and HIV doctor to make time to talk with you about your fears.

Do not hesitate to ask for additional help from family and friends but also from community agencies (both HIV support services and those set up for new mothers). Those agencies are there because it is common to need help at this time. Asking for help doesn’t mean you are ‘not coping’ — it means you are trying to be the best mother you can be.

One in seven women experience post-natal depression. Research suggests that women who have previously been depressed are more likely to experience post-natal depression (although it is not always the case). If you have previously experienced depression it may be useful to let your health care provider know so they can make sure you get support if necessary. Early identification and interventions to address post-natal depression can be very effective.

If you experience post-natal depression, you may find that psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy or discussions with a support group help you regain your sense of balance. PANDA (Post and Antenatal Depression Association) has some very helpful factsheets and runs a phone Helpline. PANDA is keen to support any new parent struggling during pregnancy or after the birth of their baby, as well as their partner, family and friends. Some women also find antidepressant medication useful.

If your baby does have HIV, you will face some difficult decisions. You have the right to be upset and to take your time. You also have the right to professional support. There are many agencies and support groups who are happy to work with you as you make decisions and plans for the future. See keeping well for some more tips on staying healthy and happy.