Postnatal Depression

What is it?

Postnatal depression is a depressive illness that affects many new parents, and is especially common in new mothers. We often hear the term “baby blues”, which refers to feelings of anxiousness and tearfulness up to two weeks after birth. This is quite normal; however prolonged symptoms are classed as postnatal depression and require treatment.

Postnatal depression can affect between 10-15 new mothers in every 100 and can start from the first few days after birth up to the first year after birth. New fathers can also develop similar symptoms. 

Postnatal depression is sometimes hard to recognise as it can develop gradually. Having a baby is seen as a joyous occasion which can make talking about these feelings of depression more difficult. It is important to know that if you are experiencing feelings of depression after the birth of your child then help is available.


What causes it?

The cause of postnatal depression is unknown, although there may be links to a combination of causes such as hormones, tiredness, lack of support, previous mental health problems, low self-esteem, the experience of abuse, poverty and major life events which have caused major stress. Depression in general can be caused by many things and it is important to seek support if needed.


Signs and symptoms (how to spot it / what does it feel like)

Individuals with postnatal depression may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

·      Feeling depressed or low most of the time

·      Tearful for no reason

·      Overwhelming anxiousness

·      Feeling tired but finding it difficult to sleep

·      Feeling unable to cope

·      Feeling worthless

·      Being withdrawn

·      Angry and irritable at those around you including your baby

·      Feeling hostile or indifferent to your baby or partner

·      Changes in appetite

·      Lack of enjoyment

·      Lost interest in sex

·      Suicidal thoughts

·      Negative thoughts

·      Frightening thoughts about hurting your baby

·      Feeling guilty

·      Feeling like the future holds no hope

·      Finding it difficult to concentrate or made decisions

·      In severe cases, some may experience psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices and hallucinations (in which case seek urgent medical treatment)

It is rare that an individual would experience all of these symptoms.


Treatment options

Do not be afraid to ask for help or talk to your doctor or health visitor about how you are feeling.

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend that all women should be asked questions by a healthcare professional to assess if postnatal depression is present after birth. If there are signs of postnatal depression steps should be taken to ensure that the correct care is provided.  NICE also recommends talking therapies in the management of postnatal depression.  Talking through your feelings and being supported can be a huge relief, helping you cope to manage your stress and anxiety. Counselling can offer a safe and confidential space to work through your negative thoughts and feelings and help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself to promote positive change. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be offered as a short-term treatment of symptoms providing practical ways of dealing with your problems.

It should be noted that some antidepressant medication should be avoided when breastfeeding so talk to your GP online about which medication may help you. 


By Helen Rutherford