You’ve had the baby you always wanted, but for some reason, you feel low and overwhelmed. With one in seven mums suffering from postnatal depression, you should not be ashamed to speak up and seek help. A lot of the time, your depression will get better without therapy, but do not suffer in silence, as there are plenty of treatments available should you need it.
The hectic, sleep-deprived chaos of new parenthood can be incredibly overwhelming, and it’s thought that around 14% of new mums suffer postnatal depression (PND) in the first three months after giving birth. It’s important to remember, this is also a condition that can affect fathers and partners, with 1 in 25 men suffering from depression after having a baby, so be sure to know the symptoms and seek help as soon as you can.
What is postnatal depression?
In very simple terms, postnatal (or postpartum) depression is a form of depression that affects new parents after having a baby. Many women feel down, tearful or anxious after giving birth, but if this lasts for more than two weeks, you could have postnatal depression. Like all forms of depression, this is very normal, very treatable and nothing to be ashamed of.
Why does it develop and how long should it last?
Postnatal depression can start any time in the first year after giving birth. For a long time, postnatal depression was explained by hormone changes, yet there’s actually a lot of different factors involved. Like all forms of depression, the causes are not black and white, yet it has been associated with the following:
- A history of mental problems, either in pregnancy or earlier in your life.
- A lack of close family and friends to support you after your baby arrives.
- Relationship issues with your partner.
- Stressful life events such as a bereavement
It’s important to remember, even if you do not have any of these symptoms, you could still be suffering from postnatal depression. You’ve just undergone a massive life-changing event, which can often be a trigger in itself.
How long you suffer from PND depends on the severity of your condition and the type of treatment you choose to take. Do not worry, you will get over this.
What are the signs of postnatal depression?
The symptoms of postnatal depression vary from mother to mother, but the common ones to look out for are:
- Low mood: It’s very common to feel down in the first few days after giving birth, often referred to as ‘the baby blues’, but for women with postnatal depression, feelings of sadness or irritability persist and they don't start to feel more positive after a week or two.
- Apathy: If you have postnatal depression, you may also lose interest in the world around you and find it hard to motivate yourself to do anything. You may also find you cannot enjoy spending time with your baby. Do not worry, this does not make you a terrible mother, you will recover and start to love motherhood.
- Sleep problems: The exhaustion of looking after a baby who won’t sleep or wakes often can make postnatal depression worse, but you may also find you struggle to get to sleep or wake in the night. It can also cause a general feeling of constant tiredness or fatigue.
- Lack of confidence: Postnatal depression can make you very anxious even when your baby is happy and thriving. Alongside this, sufferers can start to question their decisions and ability as a mum. ‘Women start to think it’s my fault my baby is like this, I’m not doing a good enough job,’ says Dr Liz McDonald from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
- Appetite: Losing your appetite and interest in food can be a sign that you may have postnatal depression (PND). But so can comfort eating to try and make yourself feel better.
- Frightening thoughts: It is thought around half of women with postnatal depression have thoughts of harming their baby – which can feel incredibly scary and isolating, but do not mean you are a bad mother. ‘Women may also have suicidal thoughts and very negative ideas,’ adds Dr McDonald. If you are suffering from these thoughts, talk to your partner and contact your GP or health visitor immediately.
Is there anything I can do to prevent postnatal depression?
It’s impossible to predict whether you will suffer from PND after your baby is born and although there have been several studies on how to prevent postnatal depression, there is no scientific evidence to support any. Experts recommend that you eat well, maintain a healthy lifestyle and take care for yourself once your baby is born. It’s also important to build a support network around you.
That said, if you have a history of depression or mental health problems, you should speak to your GP or mental health team when you are pregnant, as they will be able to arrange extra support for the first few weeks after you give birth.
What are the treatments for postnatal depression?
For a lot of women, tackling postnatal depression at home is the first step, yet depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may be offered additional support to help you feel better faster.
- Visits from your health visitor: This increased support is offered to those with mild depression. These ‘listening visits’ from your health visitor help you try and get back to doing things that you enjoy.
- Talking therapies: If you have moderate postnatal depression, you’re likely to be referred by your GP to a therapist or counsellor, especially if this is the first time you have suffered from a mental illness. One type of therapy commonly used in the NHS is cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), which helps people break cycles of negative thinking.
- Antidepressants: If you have moderate to severe postnatal depression that’s unlikely to go away on its own, you might be offered medication. Although this may seem scary, antidepressants can help treat the condition without having an impact on your family.
If you do choose to avoid therapy and want to try and cure your postnatal depression without extra support, here are some ideas that might help.
Where can I go for support and advice?
From your health visitor, to dedicated phone lines, if you are suffering from postnatal depression, there are plenty of resources out there to help. Do not be ashamed or suffer alone.
- Friends and family: Having a new baby is definitely a time to call on the people who know you best. Whether it’s for help with caring for your new arrival, or just sharing your thoughts over a cup of tea, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Your health visitor: He or she is there to make sure you and your baby are doing ok. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing your feelings with your family and friends, they will be able to recommend local recourses and support groups that might help.
- Your GP: Your GP is a great person to help give you a formal diagnosis and work out what the best treatment will be to help support you. Remember they are trained professionals and will not judge you in any way.
- Charities: There are a number of amazing charities out there who help raise awareness and support for new parents suffering with PND. The Association for Post Natal Illness (APNI) had downloadable leaflets, as does PANDAS (Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support). NCT and MIND also have dedicated sections where you can read more about the condition, and find advice for partners and family members about how best to support you.
- Phone helplines: Many support organisations have phone (and sometimes text) lines, which are a great place to start if you want to seek some anonymous advice. Whilst the people on the end of the phone aren’t health professionals, they have training and support and will be able to offer you advice. We've listed some good numbers to call at the end of this article.
- Support groups: Although these may feel daunting, support groups are a great way to meet other mothers going through exactly the same thing. Ask your GP or health visitor, or search online to find a PND or new parent support group in your area.
MIND: 0300 123 3393
APNI: 0207 386 0868
PANDAS: 0843 28 98 401