Postnatal depression

Welcoming a new baby can be one of the most exciting times in a person’s life but for some women, struggling with their mental health can mean that it’s not as enjoyable as it could be.

There are a number of different ways pregnancy can affect a woman’s emotional wellbeing including postnatal depression.

If you think you might have postnatal depression, don’t struggle with it on your own. It’s not a sign that you’re a bad mother or are unable to cope. Postnatal depression is an illness and you need support from a professional, just as you would if you had a physical health problem.

Your health visitor is an excellent person to start with. He or she can speak to you about how you’re feeling and will be able to suggest techniques that can help you to cope. It’s also important to see your GP. Postnatal depression is treatable but it’s not something to ignore so do reach out as soon as you feel able.

What is postnatal depression (PND)?

Also sometimes referred to as postpartum depression or antenatal depression, about 10% of new mums will experience PND. Symptoms can start at any time within the first year of giving birth and are more severe and long-lasting than those associated with the baby blues.

PND can have a significant impact on you and your family, and left untreated, it can become worse over time. However, with the right support, a full and lasting recovery is possible.

In addition to the symptoms listed for the baby blues, women with PND may also experience:

  • A persistent, day-to-day feeling of sadness, emptiness or low mood
  • A lack of enjoyment in the things they usually like to do
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Daily fatigue
  • Difficulty physically or emotionally bonding with their baby
  • A feeling that they don’t love their baby
  • A pervasive fear that they’re ‘a bad mum’
  • In some cases, women report having distressing thoughts about wanting to hurt or abandon their baby.

What causes PND?

There appears to be many causes for PND, which can include:

  • A history of mental health problems, particularly depression, earlier in life
  • A history of substance misuse, or current misuse of alcohol or drugs
  • A history of mental health problems during pregnancy
  • A lack of close family or friends to lean on for support
  • A poor relationship with your partner
  • Domestic abuse or other difficulties in a relationship
  • Recent stressful life events, such as housing problems, bereavement or financial worries.

What can you and your partner do if you have PND?

  • It’s critical to speak to your health visitor or GP if you’re experiencing any symptoms associated with PND. Many women don’t even realise that they have PND because symptoms can come on very gradually. Health professionals know that PND is not a reflection on your ability as a parent. It’s an illness and with the right kind of support, it can be treated. But remember – PND won’t go away by itself. Seek help as soon as you notice any changes in your wellbeing.
  • As with the baby blues, it can be really helpful to speak to other new parents to reassure yourself that some changes to your emotional wellbeing are a normal reaction to a big change in your life. If you don’t know any new parents, there are a number of social media groups where you can share your thoughts and get support.
  • Lifestyle changes can really help manage symptoms of PND. Ensure that you’re eating well even if you’re not breastfeeding, getting enough rest, and letting your loved ones know when you need help both practically and emotionally.
  • If you’re supporting your partner through PND, encourage her to share her feelings with you but don’t push her to talk if she doesn’t feel like it. It can be enough for her to know that you’re there for her and taking her feelings seriously. Offer to help with household chores and look after the baby when she needs a rest. Depression can have a huge impact on energy levels so help her to have time and space to herself as often as she needs it.

Treatments for postnatal depression

Postnatal depression can be lonely and distressing, but support and effective treatments are available. Depending on your situation and health history, your GP might recommend:

You can also find support and guidance through the following specialist charities:

APNI - The Association for Post Natal illness

The National Childbirth Trust

The PANDAS Foundation

NHS