Pregnancy and baby

Feeling depressed after childbirth

How do I know if I have postnatal depression?

Media last reviewed: 12/04/2012

Next review due: 12/04/2014

The baby blues

During the first week after childbirth, many women get what's often called the ‘baby blues’. This is probably due to the sudden hormonal and chemical changes that take place in your body after childbirth.

Symptoms can include:

  • feeling emotional and irrational
  • bursting into tears for no apparent reason
  • feeling irritable or touchy
  • feeling depressed or anxious

All these symptoms are normal and usually only last for a few days.

Postnatal depression

Depression after a baby is born can be extremely distressing. Postnatal depression is thought to affect around one in 10 women (and up to four in 10 teenage mothers).

Many women suffer in silence. Their friends, relatives and health professionals don't know how they're feeling.

Postnatal depression usually occurs two to eight weeks after the birth, though sometimes it can happen up to a year after the baby is born.

Symptoms such as tiredness, irritability or poor appetite are normal if you've just had a baby. But these are usually mild and don't stop you leading a normal life.

When you have postnatal depression, you may feel increasingly depressed and despondent. Looking after yourself or your baby may become too much. Other signs of postnatal depression are:

  • anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • sleeplessness
  • extreme tiredness
  • aches and pains
  • feeling generally unwell
  • memory loss or being unable to concentrate
  • feelings of not being able to cope
  • not being able to stop crying
  • loss of appetite
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • not being able to enjoy anything
  • loss of interest in the baby
  • excessive anxiety about the baby

Getting help for postnatal depression

If you think you have postnatal depression, don’t struggle alone. It's not a sign that you're a bad mother or are unable to cope. Postnatal depression is an illness and you need to get help, just as you would if you had the flu or a broken leg.

Talk to someone you trust, such as your partner or a friend. Or ask your health visitor to call in and visit you. 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.

It's also important to see your GP. If you don’t feel up to making an appointment, ask someone to do it for you. 

Treatment for postnatal depression

Milder cases of postnatal depression can be treated with counselling. This can be given by the health visitor or a therapist. More severe cases often require antidepressants and you may need to see a specialist.

It's important to let your GP know if you're breastfeeding. If you need to take antidepressants, they'll prescribe a type of medication that's suitable while you're breastfeeding.

You may also find it helpful to contact the Association for Post-Natal Illness or the National Childbirth Trust.

Your local children's centre can put you in touch with your nearest postnatal group. These groups provide contact with other new mothers and encourage mums to support each other. They offer social activities and help with parenting skills.

Avoiding alcohol

Alcohol may appear to help you relax and unwind. In fact, it’s a depressant that affects your mood, judgement, self-control and co-ordination. It has even more of an effect if you’re tired and run-down. Be careful about when and how much you drink, and don't drink alcohol if you're taking anti-depressants or tranquillisers.

Puerperal psychosis

This condition is extremely rare. Only 1 or 2 mothers in 1,000 develop a severe psychiatric illness that requires medical or hospital treatment after the birth of a baby. This illness can develop within hours of childbirth and is very serious, needing urgent attention.

Other people usually notice it first as the mother often acts strangely. It is more likely to happen if you have a severe mental illness, a past history of severe mental illness or a family history of perinatal mental illness. Specialist mother and baby units can provide expert treatment without separating you from your baby.

Most women make a complete recovery, although this may take a few weeks or months.

Postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often the result of a traumatic birth, such as a very long or painful labour, or an emergency or problematic delivery. It can also develop after other types of trauma, such as:

  • a fear of dying or your baby dying
  • life-threatening situations

The symptoms of postnatal PTSD can occur alone or in addition to the symptoms of postnatal depression. 

The symptoms of PTSD include:

  • nightmares
  • flashbacks
  • panic attacks
  • sleeping problems
  • lack of emotions
  • severe irritability or anger

The symptoms can develop straight after the birth or months afterwards.

It's very important to talk to someone about how you're feeling. Your midwife, GP or health visitor will be able help you. If you're worried about talking to a health professional, consider asking a close friend or family member to come with you for support.

There are very effective treatments available, such as cognitive behavioural therapy and medications. Read more about treatments for PTSD.

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

Page last reviewed: 23/09/2013

Next review due: 23/09/2015

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Comments

The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

AntigoneStar said on 25 July 2014

I was very ill after the birth of my child I had post birth trauma or post natal psychosis. The hospital experience was a nightmare. I kept my hallucinations to myself which were very violent graphic images of my child being harmed. Or myself. This started the day after delivery. It was terrifying.

I had to go into hospital and sleep helped a lot. I had no therapy there.

I still had symptoms of post birth trauma with psychosis as part of my PMT 2 years on.

What clinicians fail to realise is the sanctity of a woman and her womb. It felt like an assualt and very invasive experience. With professionals effectively 'getting the baby out' rather than facilitating a birth. It was depersonalising and degrading at times.

I have had private psychotherapy but the main help around the lingering symptoms was dealing with the lack of sleep and the herbal remedy Agnus Castus.

If you are struggling and feel like your mind is out of control and you just can't take it anymore that you are two different people please try agnus castus.

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JH_app said on 15 January 2013

You can visit Action on Postpartum Psychosis ( www.app-network.org ) for more information about symptoms, treatment, and recovery from Postpartum Psychosis or 'Puerperal Psychosis'.

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