Causes of postnatal depression 

The cause of postnatal depression isn't completely clear. Most experts think it's the result of a combination of factors.

These may include:

  • depression during pregnancy
  • a difficult delivery
  • lack of support at home
  • relationship worries
  • money problems
  • having no close family or friends around you
  • physical health problems following the birth, such as urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control), or persistent pain from an episiotomy scar or a forceps delivery

Even if you don't have any of these problems and your pregnancy and labour is straightforward, having a baby can be a stressful and life-changing event that can sometimes trigger depression.

People often assume they'll naturally adapt to parenthood overnight. However, it can take months before you begin to cope with the pressures of being a new parent. This is true even for those who already have children.

In addition, some babies are more difficult and demanding than others and don't settle so easily. This can lead to exhaustion and stress.

Who's at risk

Factors that can increase your risk of experiencing postnatal depression include having:

  • a family history of depression or postnatal depression (genetics appears to play a role in both of these conditions but exactly how is still unclear)
  • previously experiencing depression, postnatal depression or other mood disorders

The role of hormones

It was once thought that huge changes in hormone levels during and after pregnancy were the sole cause of postnatal depression. This is no longer thought to be the case, although changes in hormone levels may still play a part.

One theory is that some women are more sensitive to the effects of falling hormone levels after they've given birth. All mothers will experience hormonal changes but only some mothers will be affected emotionally.

It's possible that this, as well as the stress of looking after a baby or money problems, may trigger the depression.

Postnatal depression in men

Postnatal depression can also affect men. A 2011 study found that like mothers, around one in 10 fathers experienced depression after the birth of their child.

Having a baby can be stressful for both parents, and some fathers feel unable to cope or that they’re not giving their partner enough support.

Visit your GP if you’ve recently become a father and you have depression. The treatment for men is much the same as for women.

Page last reviewed: 17/03/2014

Next review due: 17/03/2016