Postnatal depression is a type of depression that many parents experience after having a baby.
It's a common problem, affecting more than 1 in every 10 women within a year of giving birth. It can also affect fathers and partners, although this is less common.
It's important to seek help as soon as possible if you think you might be depressed, as your symptoms could last months or get worse and have a significant impact on you, your baby and your family.
With the right support, which can include self-help strategies and therapy, most women make a full recovery.
Symptoms of postnatal depression
Many women feel a bit down, tearful or anxious in the first week after giving birth. This is often called the "baby blues" and is so common that it’s considered normal. The "baby blues" don’t last for more than two weeks after giving birth.
If your symptoms last longer or start later, you could have postnatal depression. Postnatal depression can start any time in the first year after giving birth.
Signs that you or someone you know might be depressed include:
- a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
- lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the wider world
- lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
- trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day
- difficulty bonding with your baby
- withdrawing from contact with other people
- problems concentrating and making decisions
- frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your baby
Many women don't realise they have postnatal depression, because it can develop gradually.
Read more about the symptoms of postnatal depression.
Getting help for postnatal depression
Speak to your GP or health visitor if you think you may be depressed. Many health visitors have been trained to recognise postnatal depression and have techniques that can help. If they can't help, they'll know someone in your area who can.
Encourage your partner to seek help if you think they might be having problems.
Don't struggle alone hoping that the problem will go away. Remember that:
- a range of help and support is available, including therapy
- depression is an illness like any other
- it's not your fault you're depressed – it can happen to anyone
- being depressed doesn't mean you're a bad parent
- it doesn’t mean you’re going mad
- your baby won't be taken away from you – babies are only taken into care in very exceptional circumstances
Treatments for postnatal depression
Postnatal depression can be lonely, distressing and frightening, but support and effective treatments are available.
- self-help – things you can try yourself include: talking to your family and friends about your feelings and what they can do to help; making time for yourself to do things you enjoy; resting whenever you get the chance and getting as much sleep as you can at night; exercising regularly; eating a healthy diet
- psychological therapy – your GP may be able to recommend a self-help course, or may refer you for a course of therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- antidepressants – these may be recommended if your depression is more severe or other treatments haven't helped; your doctor can prescribe a medicine that's safe to take while breastfeeding
Local and national organisations, such as the Association for Post Natal Illness (APNI) and Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support (PANDAS), can also be useful sources of help and advice.
Read more about treating postnatal depression.
What causes postnatal depression?
The cause of postnatal depression isn't completely clear. Some of the factors it has been associated with include:
- a history of mental health problems, particularly depression, earlier in life
- a history of mental health problems during pregnancy
- having no close family or friends to support you
- a poor relationship with your partner
- recent stressful life events, such as a bereavement
- experiencing the "baby blues"
Even if you don't have any of these symptoms, having a baby is a life-changing event that can sometimes trigger depression.
It often takes time to adapt to becoming a new parent. Looking after a small baby can be stressful and exhausting.
Can postnatal depression be prevented?
Although there have been several studies into preventing postnatal depression, there is no evidence that there’s anything specific you can do to prevent the condition developing, apart from maintaining as healthy a lifestyle as you can for yourself.
However, if you have a history of depression or mental health problems, or if you have a family history of mental health problems after childbirth, tell your GP or mental health team if you’re pregnant or thinking of having a baby. This is so they can offer you appropriate monitoring and treatment, if necessary.
If you have had a mental health problem while pregnant, your doctor should arrange for you to be seen regularly in the first few weeks after birth.
Myths about postnatal depression
Postnatal depression is often misunderstood and there are many myths surrounding it. These include:
- Postnatal depression is less severe than other types of depression. In fact, it's as serious as other types of depression.
- Postnatal depression is entirely caused by hormonal changes. It's actually caused by many different factors.
- Postnatal depression will soon pass. Unlike the "baby blues", postnatal depression can persist for months if left untreated. In a minority of cases, it can become a long-term problem.
- Postnatal depression only affects women. Research has actually found that up to 1 in 25 new fathers become depressed after having a baby.
Page last reviewed: 11/02/2016
Next review due: 01/02/2019