What is Postnatal Depression?


Having given birth, women enter the postpartum period and the fourth trimester, during which we adapt to becoming a new parent and our baby transitions from the womb into the big wide world. This truly is a life changing time in every woman’s life. Some women find the transition easy, others struggle with it. There is nothing to feel guilty about if you do find it hard. Many women do.

Having a new-born baby in the home changes your life, your routine and it often causes sleep deprivation like we have never experienced before, which can make us feel a bit out of sorts. For some women though, approximately, 10-15% who have had a baby, not only do they feel exhausted, they develop an illness known as postnatal depression (PND). It often starts 1-2 months after the birth, but it can begin several months later.

There are several different causes of PND, including; previous mental illness, lack of support, previous abuse, stressful life events and physical illness. Mental health issues can not only affect women after childbirth but also during pregnancy. There also different mental health illnesses other than PND, and so it is important that women get the correct diagnosis and the right support to help them to recover.


What is Postnatal Depression?

It is a depressive illness that occurs after childbirth.

According to the Royal College of Psychologists, “The symptoms are similar to those in depression at other times.  These include low mood and other symptoms lasting at least two weeks. Depending on the severity, you may struggle to look after yourself and your baby.”

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms for two weeks or longer please reach out to health care professionals or your GP for help and support.


What symptoms of PND should I look out for?

Women experiencing PND may find that they experience one or more of the symptoms below.

  1. Feeling low most of the time
  2. Feeling irritable most of the time
  3. A poor appetite
  4. Comfort eating
  5. A loss of interest in things
  6. A lack of interest in the baby (or your other children)
  7. Negative thoughts
  8. Feeling guilty
  9. Loss of confidence
  10. Not wanting to see people
  11. Feeling anxious (feeling that the baby will be harmed or die)
  12. Believing that you aren’t a good mother
  13. Feeling hopeless and that life is not worth living
  14. Thoughts of self-harm
  15. Thoughts of suicide
  16. Psychotic symptoms (hearing voices, this is very severe PND and you need to seek medical help immediately)

The majority of women who have PND can still care for their baby and other children. Those who are experiencing severe symptoms including thoughts of self-harm, suicide or are hearing voices, may struggle to care for their baby, children and themselves and so needs to seek help immediately. A depressed mother often worries that they may harm their baby, which is very rarely the case, but if you feel like this speak to someone you trust so you can get help.

Be assured though that PND can happen to any new mum. Here is what Chrissy Tiegan said about her experience with depression after the birth of her daughter, Luna.

“It happened three months after giving birth to Luna. It was a sad existence. There were no highs. It was a flat-line of life for a few months. You hear these horrific stories of people not seeing their child as theirs, or wanting to hurt them, and I never felt that way. That’s why I put off getting it checked as I hated myself, not my child.”

Women often don’t reach out for help when they feel low in the first few months after childbirth because they feel guilty or that their baby may be taken away from them. Be assured that health professionals do not want to take any baby away from their mum.


Who do I talk to if I suspect I have postnatal depression?

When women are pregnant they often have visions of how life is going to be with a new-born. They think they will love every minute and they will feel their usual self, straight after the birth. However, in reality, this is so often not what happens. When women aren’t feeling well and don’t think they are transitioning well into becoming a mum, they often don’t want to seek help, as they think the health care professionals will judge them and possibly take their baby away.

Health visitors, midwives and GPs have seen many women with PND and what they really want to do is to support any woman to get back to full health to enjoy the time with their new-born, as this time passes all too quickly. Their focus is getting women the right support and help that each individual needs. It is therefore important that if you or a new mum who you know isn’t well and is displaying symptoms described previously that you reach out and seek help, for your own well-being and that of your baby.


What are the treatments for postnatal depression?

1) Psychological (talking) therapies

Being able to talk to someone about how you are feeling can offer relief. By talking about your experience, it gives you the opportunity to understand and make sense of your difficulties. To access this support, speak to your GP, and they will advise you about the local psychological therapy services that are available.


2) Medication

If the talking therapy has not helped or you have severe depression, you might be advised to take medication such as an antidepressant. It is possible to continue breastfeeding whilst taking antidepressant, and your GP will advise you about this. If the prescribed antidepressant makes breastfeeding impossible, it is important to consider that the most important thing for a baby is that their mother gets better.


3) Hormonal treatments and alternative remedies

There is little evidence that hormonal treatments or alternative remedies, such as John’s Wort (which is not safe to be taking when breastfeeding) are effective.


How women with PND can help themselves to recover

There are a number of useful things that you can do which can help you to feel better over time including;

1) Talk to someone and share how you really feel – it could be your partner, a friend, a relative, your Midwife, your Health Visitor or your GP.

2) Rest and sleep when you can. To help you to do this ask your partner or a relative to help with night feeds.

3) Give yourself some time out to do something you enjoy, even if it’s a simple as going for a walk or reading a book.

4) Visit postnatal support groups to meet other women who may be feeling similar to you

5) Use online forums where women share their experiences with others, so that you can talk to them online and build a support network online

6) Try not to do everything yourself, let others do the housework, shopping, nappy changing etc.

7) Exercise is a great way of releasing endorphins and serotonin which can make you feel better in yourself, and so try and fit in some exercise every day, even if it’s just 10 minutes.

8) Read self-help books or look at relevant websites which can offer your further advice and support to help you to recover from the illness

No woman wants to have those first precious months with their new-born blighted by postnatal depression, but if you do find that you are experiencing symptoms the sooner you can reach out for help, the quicker you’ll start to feel better.

One of the wonderful organisations that can help you during this time is Pre and Post Natal Depression Advice and Support (PANDAS). Their website can be found at www.pandasfoundation.org.uk

The Association for Postnatal Illness (www.apni.org) offers advice and support for women with postnatal mental illness by volunteers who have had PND themselves.



 Disclaimer –  Please seek medical advice from your GP Doctor or Midwife if you are concerned about any conditions that you are experiencing during your maternity.The content in this blog is written to share publicly available information and is not meant to represent professional health care advice.