Postnatal depression – or postpartum depression – is a depressive illness that affects women who have recently had a baby.
It usually begins within the first few weeks or months of childbirth; however, it can come on anytime during the baby’s first year. It can affect mothers with older children who experienced no problems in the past, but it is most common after a woman’s first pregnancy and in those who have had multiple births.
Having a baby or another child will have a huge impact on your life and it’s natural to feel many conflicting emotions as you set about looking after your newborn.
The social pressure to cope perfectly from the word go puts a lot of pressure on a new mother – being bombarded with images of smiling, happy ‘mothers’ in magazines and advertisements only adds to any existing feelings of failure, anxiety and despair.
Mothers with postnatal depression can often struggle to bond with and look after their baby.
The ‘baby blues’
Newborn babies can be demanding and it’s not unusual for new mums to feel exhausted and even a bit low for several days – even a few weeks – after giving birth. These so-called ‘baby blues’ usually go away on their own as the baby settles into a routine and are not a sign of postnatal depression.
What does postnatal depression feel like?
The symptoms of postnatal depression vary from woman to woman, and depending on the severity of the depression, but may include:
- emptiness and hopelessness
- crying for no apparent reason
- negative thoughts
- doubting your ability to care for your baby
- thinking about harming yourself or your baby
- anxiety about your baby’s development
- panic attacks
- little interest in enjoyable activities, i.e. socialising, food, sex, etc
- lack of concentration
- feeling nothing matters anymore
- withdrawing from others, including your baby and partner
Fathers and postnatal depression
While postnatal depression mostly affects women, it is not unusual for fathers to experience it too, particularly if their partner is depressed. This is often referred to as paternal postnatal depression.
Risk factors include:
- first-time parent
- being an older parent
- limited education
- having little family support
- other stressful life events at same time
- quality of relationship with the baby’s mother
Postpartum (puerperal) psychosis
Postpartum psychosis is a serious psychiatric condition which affects a small percentage of women after childbirth, but can present a very real threat to their health, and even their lives.
It is more likely to affect women with previous mental health issues, particularly those with bipolar disorder.
Maybe you’re feeling exhausted and overwhelmed all the time – perhaps you feel resentful about your baby’s constant demands or wish you had never had a baby in the first place. Feeling that way is not a natural part of motherhood that you must put up with and may mean you are suffering from postnatal depression.
It’s important to talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP about how you are feeling so you can get the help you need to get better, perhaps antidepressants or counselling/talk therapy, or a combination of both.
Remember, postnatal depression is a temporary condition that will improve with time and support.
NCT provides practical and emotional support to all new parents, including with postnatal depression. Tel: 0300 330 0700
Mind has information about coping with postnatal depression.
Time to Change Wales wants to end the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems, including postnatal depression.
For more information about pregnancy, birth and when your baby is born, visit NHS 111 Wales Pregnancy and Baby Guide.