Postnatal depression 

Introduction 

Postnatal depression

Mums who have had postnatal depression talk about the feelings they faced, and perinatal psychiatrist Dr Margaret Oates explains how it can be treated quickly with the right help.

Media last reviewed: 16/09/2013

Next review due: 16/09/2015

Myths surrounding postnatal depression

Postnatal depression is often misunderstood and many myths surround the condition. These include:

  • Postnatal depression is less severe than other types of depression. In fact, postnatal depression is as serious as other types of depression.
  • Postnatal depression is entirely caused by hormonal changes. Postnatal depression is actually caused by many different factors.
  • Postnatal depression will soon pass. Unlike the "baby blues", the symptoms of postnatal depression persist for months if left untreated and in a minority of cases can become a long-term problem. 

Postnatal depression in men

Postnatal depression can affect men too. The birth of a new baby can be stressful for both parents and some fathers feel unable to cope, or feel they are not giving their partner the support she needs.

A study published in 2011 found 1 in 10 men experienced depression after the birth of their child.

If you are a man affected in this way contact your GP. The treatment for men is much the same as for women.

Postnatal depression is a type of depression some women experience after they have had a baby.

It usually develops in the first four to six weeks after childbirth, although in some cases it may not develop for several months.

There are many symptoms of postnatal depression, such as low mood, feeling unable to cope and difficulty sleeping, but many women are not aware they have the condition.

It's common to experience mood changes, irritability and episodes of tearfulness after birth – the so-called baby blues. These normally clear up within a few weeks. But if a woman experiences persistent symptoms, it could well be the result of postnatal depression.

It is important for partners, family and friends to recognise signs of postnatal depression as early as possible and seek professional advice.

Read more information about the signs and symptoms of postnatal depression.

It's very important to understand that postnatal depression is an illness. Having it does not mean you do not love or care for your baby.

Treating postnatal depression

Postnatal depression can be lonely, distressing and frightening, but there are many treatments available.

As long as postnatal depression is recognised and treated, it is a temporary condition you can recover from.

It is very important to seek treatment if you think you (or your partner) have postnatal depression.

The condition is unlikely to get better by itself quickly and it could impact on the care of the baby.

Treatment for postnatal depression includes:

Read more about the treatment of postnatal depression.

Why do I have post natal depression?

The cause of postnatal depression isn't clear, but it's thought to be the result of several things rather than a single cause. These may include:

  • the physical and emotional stress of looking after a newborn baby
  • hormonal changes that occur shortly after pregnancy; it is thought some women may be more sensitive to hormones than others
  • individual social circumstances such as money worries, poor social support or relationship problems

Women might be more at risk of developing post natal depression if they:

  • have a previous history of depression or other mood disorders such as bipolar disorder
  • have a previous history of postnatal depression
  • experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy

Read more about the causes of postnatal depression.

Who is affected

Postnatal depression is more common than many people realise and cases can often go undiagnosed.

It is estimated around one-in-seven women experience some level of depression in the first three months after giving birth.

Rates of postnatal depression are highest in teenage mothers and is thought to affect all ethnic groups equally.




Page last reviewed: 19/04/2012

Next review due: 19/04/2014

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Feeling depressed after childbirth

It's normal to experience the 'baby blues' but postnatal depression can be very distressing. Here's where to get help