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Postnatal depression

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read
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Postnatal depression - sometimes also called PND or postpartum depression - is a type of depression that happens after having a baby and can affect anyone around the baby. It is by far most common in the mother (PND occurs in 1 in 10 women) but can also occasionally occur in the fathers. Your doctor will ask you about these symptoms at your six-week check but if you want to speak to someone about it earlier, contact your doctor straight away.

It's always important to seek advice from your doctor if you think you may be experiencing postnatal depression. Postnatal depression can get worse over time without any intervention and persist for months, so it’s really important to get the right support early for you and your family.

What are the symptoms?

Postnatal depression is very different from ‘baby blues’, which is a brief episode of low mood that usually lasts for a short time just after giving birth and which normally settles around 10 days after birth.

The symptoms of postpartum depression are more pronounced and usually appear in the first four weeks after birth, although it can develop at any time within the first year of giving birth. It covers a range of different symptoms, feelings, and emotions such as;

  • a persistent feeling of low mood
  • lack of interest in doing things that they would normally have enjoyed
  • difficulty bonding with your baby
  • sleeping too much or too little, eating too much or too little
  • reduced energy and feeling more tired than expected after having a baby
  • suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

What causes postnatal depression?

The exact cause of postnatal depression is unclear. It can develop without any prior risk factors but there are things that increase the likelihood of it occurring. For example;

  • a history of mental health problems (like depression) pre-pregnancy or during pregnancy
  • lack of support
  • poor relationships with your partner including domestic abuse
  • stressful life events, such as a bereavement or significant disease/illness for your or your child

What will my doctor do?

Your doctor will screen your level of postpartum depression and decide on the appropriate treatment to help you.

They may point you in the direction of self-help treatments available. This can range from important lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly, sleeping well as often as possible including when your baby sleeps and eating well-balanced nutritious meals. There are also national organisations available that can provide more support and put you in touch with other people who have been in similar situations to encourage you.

Your doctor may refer you to a local psychological organisation for therapy, such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). If your symptoms are more severe, your doctor may recommend you start on antidepressants. If you are breastfeeding, it is important to let your doctor know.

What if I feel unsafe?

If you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, seek immediate help.

This can be at your local emergency department, your doctor, or call your local mental health crisis line or – in an emergency – call the emergency department.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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