Postnatal depression can affect women in different ways. It can start at any point in the first year after giving birth and may develop suddenly or gradually.
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 2 weeks after giving birth.
If your symptoms last longer or start later, you could have postnatal depression.
Common symptoms of postnatal depression
The main symptoms include:
- feeling sad, low in mood or tearful much of the time
- feeling irritable towards your partner, baby or other children
- loss of interest in the world around you and no longer enjoying things that used to give you pleasure (like you “can’t be bothered”)
- lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
- trouble sleeping at night, you may be awake even when your baby is sleeping
- feeling very sleepy during the day
- problems concentrating and making decisions
- loss of appetite or overeating (comfort eating)
- feeling agitated or irritable
- negative thoughts such as feeling you are not a good enough mother, you are unable to look after your baby or your baby does not love you
- feelings of guilt, hopelessness and self-blame
- feeling anxious that something bad may happen to your baby
- problems bonding with your baby, no sense of enjoyment in being with them
If you think you may be depressed talk to a GP, midwife or health visitor as soon as possible so you can access the support you need.
Urgent advice: Contact a GP, or call 111, immediately if:
- you have frightening thoughts about hurting your baby (these can be scary, but people with these kinds of thoughts rarely harm their baby)
- you are thinking about suicide and self-harm.
- you develop unusual beliefs (delusions) or have hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that are not real, like hearing voices)
Immediate action required: Call 999 if:
- you think there's a danger of immediate harm to yourself or others
Do not struggle on alone and hope the problem will go away. It can continue for months or years or get worse if nothing is done. Depression is treatable and you can get better with the right help.
Fathers and partners can also become depressed after the birth of a baby. You should seek help if this is affecting you.
Read more about treating postnatal depression.
Spotting the signs in others
Postnatal depression can develop gradually and it can be hard to recognise. Some parents may avoid talking to family and friends about how they're feeling because they worry they'll be judged for not coping or not appearing happy.
Signs for partners, family and friends to look out for in new parents include:
- frequently crying for no obvious reason
- having difficulty bonding with their baby, looking after them only as a duty and not wanting to play with them
- withdrawing from contact with other people
- speaking negatively all the time and saying that they're hopeless
- neglecting themselves, such as not washing or changing their clothes
- losing all sense of time, such as being unaware whether 10 minutes or 2 hours have passed
- losing their sense of humour
- constantly worrying that something is wrong with their baby, regardless of reassurance
If you think someone you know is depressed, encourage them to talk about their feelings to you, a friend, their GP or their health visitor.
As well as postnatal depression, a number of other mental health conditions can also develop after giving birth (as well as during pregnancy).
- anxiety disorders – including generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder
- obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – intrusive, unwanted and unpleasant thoughts, images or urges that repeatedly enter a person's mind, causing them anxiety and leading to repetitive behaviours
- postpartum psychosis – this is a combination of bipolar-like symptoms (feeling ‘high’ or ‘on top of the world’ or feeling depressed), delusions and hallucinations
Speak to a GP or health visitor if you or someone you know may have developed a mental health condition.