Postnatal depression

Postnatal depression (PND) is very common, affecting as many as one in six new mothers. It is as serious as any depression condition. The condition will likely not improve on its own without advice and support. It’s important to get medical advice if you have any of the symptoms below.

Symptoms of PND

Symptoms can start soon after giving birth, or for up to one year after. PND may last for months or, in severe cases, they can persist for more than a year.

The main symptoms of postnatal depression are the same as any depression:

As a general rule, if you're depressed:

  • you feel sad
  • you feel hopeless
  • you lose interest in things you used to enjoy
  • your symptoms continue for weeks or months -  they are bad enough to interfere with your work, social life and family life

There are many other symptoms of depression. You're unlikely to have all of those listed above. But you should read more about clinical depression to see if you have matching symptoms.

Postnatal depression can interfere with your day-to-day life and can be associated with increased anxiety.

Some women feel they're unable to look after their baby or they feel too anxious to leave the house or keep in touch.

Postnatal depression should not be seen as a less serious type of depression. Clinical depression requires assessment, support, and if appropriate, treatment.

Postnatal depression should not be dismissed thinking it will go away by itself. It should not be passed off as being due to hormonal changes, to lessen its significance.

Frightening thoughts

Some women who have postnatal depression get thoughts about harming their baby. These thoughts, known as obsessional ruminations, are very rarely acted upon.

Harmful thoughts are believed to be extremely common. It's difficult to know exactly how common they are because many mothers feel too ashamed to admit to having such thoughts and think it might encourage the involvement of social services.

If you're troubled by thoughts of harming your baby or yourself, it's best you discuss it with a health professional such as your midwife, health visitor or your GP.

Your GP can help with medication or refer you for specialist help, depending on how severe the symptoms are.

Treatment will benefit both your health and the healthy development of your baby, as well as your relationship with your partner, family and friends.

Seeking help for postnatal depression doesn't mean you're a bad mother or unable to cope.

Diagnosing PND

A professional, usually your doctor, midwife or health visitor, if the symptoms mentioned above are present may feel you have PND.

Your doctor may also give you a blood test to see if there could be another reason for your symptoms, such as an underactive thyroid gland or anaemia.

Treating PND

Talking to a trained professional can also be a useful treatment for PND. You may benefit from talking therapies however, you may also require antidepressants, with or without a talking therapy, to treat PND.

Antidepressants are tablets that balance the mood-altering chemicals in your brain relieving feelings of depression.  A course of antidepressants normally runs for four to six months.

Depression and Pregnancy

If you are being treated for depression and become pregnant, see your GP as soon as possible. This is to enable you to be referred for specialist advice before stopping or changing your antidepressant treatment.

If you develop depression while pregnant, before you have had your baby, it is likely that your GP will refer you for specialist advice before starting any necessary antidepressant treatment.

Treating severe cases (postnatal psychosis)

Postnatal psychosis is a rarer and more serious mental health condition that can develop after giving birth. It's thought to affect around one in 1,000 women.

Symptoms of postnatal psychosis include:

  • bipolar-like symptoms– feeling depressed one moment and very happy the next
  • believing things that are obviously untrue and illogical (delusions) – often relating to the baby, such as thinking the baby is dying or that either you or the baby have magical powers
  • seeing and hearing things that aren't really there  (hallucinations) – this is often hearing voices telling you to harm the baby

Post-natal psychosis is regarded as a medical emergency.

Contact your GP immediately if you think someone you know may have developed post-natal psychosis. If this is not possible, contact the GP out of hours service.

Support from family and friends

The first step to recovery is by recognising that you have a problem and going to the doctor. The second step is opening up to your family and friends who can help share the burden.

Don’t keep everything that is troubling you bottled up inside.

Talk to those closest to you. You may be surprised how much this can help your recovery.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published July 2018

This page is due for review July 2019

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