Postnatal Depression

babylon counsellor Helen Rutherford on postnatal depression.

What is it?

Postnatal depression is a depressive illness that affects new parents but is most common in women. We often hear the term the “baby blues” which refers to feelings of anxiousness and tearfulness up to two weeks post birth. This is quite normal; however prolonged symptoms would be classed as postnatal depression.

It affects c.15/100 new mothers and can start within the first few days after birth or up to the first year after birth. Fathers can also develop depression after the birth of their child and should not be ashamed to seek help if they feel affected in this way.

Postnatal depression can sometimes be hard to recognise as it often develops gradually. Having a baby is seen as a joyous occasion which can make talking about these feelings of depression more difficult. If you are experiencing feelings of depression after the birth of your child, help is available.

What causes it?

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

Signs, symptoms and what it can feel like

Those suffering from 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  • Being withdrawn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
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Negative/suicidal 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, psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices and hallucinations (in which case seek urgent medical treatment).

Treatment options

Please don't be afraid to ask for help or talk to a doctor/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 helping 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 please talk with a GP to check which medication would be the best for you.

Where can i find support?

There are many ways of getting support for yourself or someone you know who is suffering from postnatal depression. It is advisable that the first step would be to talk to a GP, whether this is your GP or a babylon GP, they will be able to advise you and refer you to the best services.