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Postnatal depression

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Postnatal depression is also known as postpartum depression. This is a type of depression that happens after having a baby and can affect anyone around the baby, for example, mothers or 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 immediately. 

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

What are the symptoms?

Postnatal depression is different from 'baby blues', which is a mild form of postpartum depression that usually lasts just a couple of weeks after giving 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 you 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 some things 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 you 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 organizations 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 organization for therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). 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.

If you or your baby are in immediate danger or you are feeling suicidal, you can go to your local emergency department as a place of safety. If your doctor’s office is open, your doctor may discuss referring you to a specialist mother and baby unit for prompt review and support.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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