About 1 in 10 mothers develop postnatal depression. Support and
understanding from family, friends, and sometimes from a professional such
as a health visitor can help you to recover. Other treatment options include
antidepressant drugs and counselling
What is meant
by postnatal depression?
Having a baby is a very emotional experience. You may feel tearful and your
mood may feel low. There are three causes of low mood afterchildbirth:
'Baby blues'. This is so common that it can be considered normal. Symptoms
include being weepy, irritability, anxiety and feeling low. It usually
starts around the 3rd day, but usually goes by the 10th day after
childbirth. It does not usually need any medical treatment.
Postnatal depression. This occurs in about 1 in 10 mothers. It usually
develops within the first four weeks after childbirth. However, it can
start several months or even up to one year following childbirth.
Symptoms, including low mood, last for much longer than with baby blues.
Treatment is advised.
Postnatal (puerperal) psychosis. This is an uncommon, but severe, form of
depression. It develops in about 1 in 1000 mothers. It is discussed
briefly at the end of this article. Sometimes postnatal depression can
also affect a father after the birth of their child.
What are the
symptoms of postnatal depression?
The symptoms are similar to those that occur with depression at any other
time. They usually include one or more of the following. In postnatal
depression, symptoms are usually there on most days, for most of the time,
for two weeks or more.
Low mood. Tends to be worse first thing in the morning, but not always.
Not really enjoying anything. Lack of interest in yourself and your baby.
Lack of motivation to do anything.
Often feeling tearful.
Feeling irritable a lot of the time.
Feelings of guilt, rejection, or inadequacy.
Poor concentration (like forgetting or losing things) or being unable to
make a decision about things.
Feeling unable to cope with anything.
You may also get thoughts about harming your baby. Around half the women
with postnatal depression get these thoughts. If things are very bad you may
get ideas of harming or killing yourself. The reality is that only in very
rare cases is anyone harmed. If you have such thoughts, you must seek some
help. In addition, you may also have: less energy, disturbed sleep, poor
appetite, and a reduced sex drive. However, these are common and normal for
a while after childbirth, and on their own do not necessarily mean that you
Why should you
do anything about postnatal depression?
you do nothing about the depression, or do not even know that you are
depressed, you are likely to get better anyway in 3-6 months (like other
types of depression). However, about 1 in 4 affected mothers are still
depressed on their child's first birthday. There are a number of reasons to
To help yourself get better quickly. You need not feel likethis. It is not
a sign of weakness to admit that you are depressed.
To help your partner or family. If you are depressed, it can cause
problems in your relationships, your job, and life in general.
To help your child (or children). If you are depressed, your relationship
with your baby may not be as good as it could be. You may not give as much
attention to your baby as you would like to. As a result, your baby's
development may not be as quick as it might be.
There is evidence to suggest that developmental problems that occur in the
baby because of a mother's depression may persist in some cases even when
the mother has recovered. Sometimes a young child's behaviour can also be
affected if their mother had postnatal depression. Many women are able to
'hide' their postnatal depression. They care for their baby perfectly well,
and appear 'fine' to those around them. However, they suffer the condition
as an internal misery. Do seek help if you are like this.
The exact cause is not clear. Common misconceptions are that it is just due
to hormone changes after you give birth and that it will go away by itself.
Any mother can develop postnatal depression. Some studies suggest that
depression after childbirth is no more common than at other times
(depression is common). However, it is thought that women are more prone to
develop depression just after childbirth. The main cause seems to be
stressful events after childbirth such as feelings of isolation, worry, and
responsibility about the new baby, etc. In addition, you may be at greater
risk of developing postnatal depression if you have/have had:
Mental health problems in the past (including depression, previous
postnatal depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia).
Previous treatment by a psychiatrist or mental health team.
Depression during your pregnancy.
Postnatal depression that runs in your family.
Marital or relationship problems.
No close friends or family around you.
Physical health problems following the birth (such as anaemia,
However, in many cases, there is no apparent cause.
What are the treatments for postnatal depression?
The type of treatment that is best for you can depend on various things
How severe your depression is and what symptoms you have.
The impact of your symptoms on your ability to function (to look
after yourself and your baby).
Whether you have had depression or other mental health problems in
Your current situation.
Together you and your doctor should be able to decide which is the right
treatment for you. The following are some of the treatments available.
More than one treatment may be suggested in some cases.
Support and advice. Understanding and support from family and friends can
help you to recover. It is often best to talk to close friends and family
to explain how you feel rather than bottling up your feelings. You may
also benefit from some help from family and friends in caring for your
baby. This may give you some time off to rest and/or to do some things for
Support and help from a health visitor can also help. Do tell your health
visitor if you feel depressed as they may be able to talk things through
Independent advice about any social problems may be available and of help
(money issues, child care, loneliness, relationships, etc.). Ask your
health visitor about what is available in your area. Also, ask about which
support or self-help groups are available. You may be surprised at how
many women feel the same way as you. Self-help groups are good at
providing encouragement and support, as well as giving advice on how best
Another treatment option is to be referred to a psychologist or other
professional for a psychological treatment. There are various types, but
their availability on the NHS can vary in different parts of the country.
Psychological treatments include the following:
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). This is a combination of cognitive
therapy and behaviour therapy. Briefly, cognitive therapy is based on the
idea that certain ways of thinking can trigger, or 'fuel', certain mental
health problems such as depression. The therapist helps you to understand
your thought patterns. In particular, to identify any harmful, unhelpful,
and 'false' ideas or thoughts which you have that can make you depressed.
The aim is then to change your ways of thinking to avoid these ideas.
Also, to help your thought patterns to be more realistic and helpful.
Therapy is usually done in weekly sessions over several months. You are
likely to be given 'homework' between sessions.
Behaviour therapy aims to change any behaviours which are harmful or not
helpful. In short, CBT helps people to achieve changes in the way that
they think, feel and behave. (See separate leaflet called 'Cognitive
Behaviour Therapy (CBT)' for more details.)
Interpersonal therapy. This type of psychological therapy can help you to
identify any problems in your relationships with family, friends,
partners, and other people, and see how these may relate to your
depression and other problems.
Other types of therapy including problem-solving therapy and psychodynamic
psychotherapy may also be used to treat postnatal depression.
Some dos and
don'ts about depression
Don't bottle things up and 'go it alone'. Try and tell people who are
close to you how you feel. It is not weak to cry or admit that you are
Don't despair. Most people with depression recover. It is important to
Do try and distract yourself by doing other things. Try doing things that
do not need much concentration but can be distracting such as watching TV.
Radio or TV is useful late at night if sleeping is a problem.
Do eat regularly, even if you do not feel like eating.
Don't drink too much alcohol. Drinking alcohol is tempting to some people
with depression as the immediate effect may seem to relieve the symptoms.
However, drinking heavily is likely to make your situation worse in the
Don't make any major decisions whilst you are depressed. If possible,
delay any major decisions about relationships, jobs, or money until you
are well again.
Do tell your doctor if you feel that you are getting worse, particularly
if suicidal thoughts are troubling you.
If you would like to discuss any of the
mental health issues raised on this page or find out how counselling might
Association for Post Natal Illness
The Association provides a telephone helpline,
information leaflets for sufferers and healthcare professionals as
well as a network of volunteers (telephone and postal), who have
themselves experienced postnatal illness.
Natal Illness Organisation
Organisation providing information and support for
people have experienced Post Natal illness but found
that the term 'depression' did not reflect how it felt for them!
Covers the whole spectrum of
emotional and mental illness women can suffer after a birth.
From its modest beginnings, Cry-sis has developed to become a
well-respected and national charity. The stated aims remain 'to be
efficient and effective in providing self-help and support to
families with excessively crying, sleepless and demanding babies'.
Birth Trauma Association
The Birth Trauma Association (BTA) supports all
women who have had a traumatic birth experience. It is estimated
that, in the UK alone, this may result in 10,000 women a year
developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Tel: 0800 068 6368. Support and practical
help for families with at least one child under-5. Help offered to parents
finding it hard yo cope for many reasons. These include PND or other mental
illness, isolation, bereavement, illness of parent or child.
and Multiple Births Association (TAMBA)
The Twins and Multiple Births Association (Tamba) is a charity set up by parents of twins, triplets and higher
multiples and interested professionals. We directly help thousands of
parents and professionals meet the unique challenges that multiple birth
helps people take control of their mental health. We do this by providing
high-quality information and advice, and campaigning to promote and protect
good mental health for everyone. How can we help you
In this section you will find a
selection of leaflets you can download or print.
Leaflet from Royal College of Psychiatrists
Leaflet from Counselling Directory
Self help leaflet from NHS Northumberland
Swindon and District Samaritans has been
offering emotional support to those in crisis for more than 40 years. You
can call or email 24hrs a day.
Local branch of the national charity providing support,
resources and drop-in sessions.
PND support group - Swindon
A free confidential support group run by
experienced local counsellors and health visitors. It is for any mum with
babies and young children, in Swindon and its surrounding areas, who perhaps
feel tearful, that they are not coping very well, have lost some of their
confidence or who are struggling with difficult feelings. A crèche is
provided on site with caring and experienced staff who understand how hard
it can be to leave your baby