How to deal with postnatal depression
Reviewed by our clinical team
Having a baby and becoming a parent is a really big change in your life, and at times can feel extremely overwhelming. Whilst many women experience the "baby blues", some women are affected by more severe and longer lasting low mood issues: postnatal depression. This is a type of depressive illness which impacts up to 10% of mothers after giving birth.
Here we share what causes postnatal depression, the symptoms to look out for and the variety of treatment options that can help you to recover.
What is postnatal depression?
Pregnancy and childbirth is a wonderful experience for many, but can have mental and physical implications. Add that on top of sleep deprivation, a lack of time for yourself and the new responsibilities of caring for a newborn, and it’s no wonder many parents feel low in the postnatal period.
Having a baby can cause varying degrees of mood issues:
Your hormone levels suddenly drop after giving birth, which can sometimes lead to feeling irritable, anxious and tearful. This is commonly known as baby blues, a very normal response to becoming a new parent. It usually lasts for the first two weeks after birth and doesn’t require medical treatment.
Postnatal depression (PND)
If your symptoms persist or are more severe, then you may have postnatal depression. PND can start weeks or months after birth and can interfere with your ability to take care of your baby or cope with daily life. It is recommended to seek treatment and support from your doctor or midwife.
Postpartum psychosis is an uncommon but serious mental illness that affects 1 in 500 mothers. It causes severe symptoms such as mania, hallucinations and extreme low mood, and should be treated as a medical emergency.
What causes postnatal depression?
There’s no exact cause for postnatal depression however it is most likely due to the extreme changes that occur as you become a parent. A lot of factors come into play such as the experience of birth, feeling anxious or worried, being more isolated, having mobility issues after a c-section or adapting to having a break from your career.
Some women are more at risk of developing postnatal depression than others:
- If you have mental health conditions such as depression or bipolar disorder
- If you’ve had postnatal depression with a previous child
- If you have relationship problems or issues in the home
- If you were trying to fall pregnant for a long time e.g. IVF and fertility treatment
- If you didn’t plan to become pregnant
- If you had a traumatic birth or health concerns during your pregnancy
- If you had anxiety or depression during your pregnancy
- If you don’t have a support network of friends or family close by
- If your partner is depressed
- If you have depression in the family or they experienced postnatal depression
Postnatal depression symptoms
The signs of postnatal depression are similar to the symptoms of depression that can occur at any point during life. Not everyone will experience the same symptoms.
The most common symptoms of postnatal depression are:
Feeling depressed and unhappy is the most common sign of postnatal depression. You may be extremely tearful and find it hard to enjoy anything, including being with your baby.
Feeling irritable and angry
You might feel angry or irritated more than normal, either with your baby, your partner or those around you.
Tiredness is a normal symptom of becoming a parent. However postnatal depression can make you feel even more exhausted.
Disconnecting from loved ones
You may avoid seeing family and friends, and find it difficult to ask for help.
Loss of appetite
New parents sometimes find it hard to find time to eat however you may lose your appetite completely or eat for comfort.
Whilst you’ll likely be tired, you may find it difficult to fall asleep. This could be because you are worrying or feeling anxious.
Not bonding with your baby
Some symptoms of postnatal depression can impact how you feel about your baby. You might not feel close to them or love them, or could resent them for the difficult emotions you are experiencing. This can sometimes lead to guilt.
You might feel very hopeless, like nothing will ever get better and your feelings won’t change.
Anxiety and panic attacks
Many new parents feel worried about their baby. However postnatal depression can lead to heightened anxiousness that can be very overwhelming. This could include worrying about your baby’s weight, that they are crying too much, that they are ill or might stop breathing.
You may also experience panic attacks, signs of which include breathlessness, sweating, a racing pulse and heart rate.
Some women may have thoughts about harming themselves. It is important to ask your doctor for support or seek emergency help if you have any urges to do so.
Postnatal depression diagnosis
Your midwife or health visitor will normally check if you have any symptoms of postnatal depression after giving birth. They may ask you if you’ve been feeling down, hopeless or anxious, or if you’ve stopped enjoying any parts of life.
It’s important to be honest about any emotions or thoughts you are experiencing and not to think it is your fault or to be embarrassed. Feeling disconnected, depressed or worried after giving birth is common and does not make you a bad parent in any way.
If you have any symptoms of postnatal depression, please reach out to your healthcare professional at any time. Your partner, family member or friend may also notice you have signs of PND and recommend that you see a doctor.
After an assessment - which might include filling in a questionnaire - your GP should be able to give you a diagnosis; sometimes they'll organise a blood test to check for other possible causes of your symptoms such as an underactive thyroid or anaemia.
Postnatal depression treatment
There are various ways to get treatment for postnatal depression, each of which depend on the severity of your symptoms and how much they impact you in day to day life.
The first step to recovering from postnatal depression is to get support from your loved ones. Talk to family and friends about PND and how they can help you. This may include looking after your baby, helping around the house or simply listening to you.
There are also plenty of support groups for new parents that will introduce you to men and women who are experiencing the same symptoms. This can be a valuable source of advice and encouragement.
If any worries are contributing to your postnatal depression, such as financial troubles, loneliness or relationship issues, your GP will be able to advise on where you can get help in your local area.
Many women are prescribed antidepressants for postnatal depression to treat symptoms such as insomnia, anger and low mood. This will allow you to function better and find it easier to manage new parenthood.
Find out more about the different types of antidepressants to help you decide which may be best for you.
You may also benefit from different types of therapy which are available on the NHS. This may include cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) with a psychologist, guided self-help programmes or other types of therapy such as interpersonal therapy.
Can men get postnatal depression?
Postnatal depression doesn’t just affect women. New fathers can also experience symptoms of PND including anxiety, fatigue, loss of appetite and low mood in the first year after birth. This is particularly more common for those who:
- Have a history of depression or mental illness
- Have financial issues
- Have relationship problems
- Whose partner has postnatal depression
- Are not in a relationship with the child’s mother
- Are drug dependant
If you or your partner is showing signs of postnatal depression, it is important to seek help and speak to a GP. Find out more about men’s mental health and how best to support them.
Postnatal depression is not a weakness and it certainly doesn't mean you're a bad person or parent; there is plenty of support and treatments available to help you. Find out more about our VideoGP service where you can talk to a doctor online from the comfort of your home. You can see a professional GP in as little as 30 minutes, seven days a week. Find out more about how to get support with your mental health and wellbeing at LloydsPharmacy.