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What is Postnatal Depression and What are the Signs?

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

Having a baby is a time of huge change and can be associated with many different emotions, such as, anxiety, happiness, panic, sadness, and exhaustion. Whilst all these emotions are normal, sometimes women may need extra support after giving birth.

What is Postnatal Depression?

Postnatal depression is a mood disorder that can affect women during later stages of pregnancy and after giving birth. It affects around 10-15 per 100 women. Postnatal depression takes many forms so it can look and feel different for different people. Anxiety and depression are commonly linked so postnatal depression is also characterised by anxiety and irritability as well as low mood.

It is not what is referred to as “Baby Blues”. Many new mothers experience “Baby Blues” which can start around 3-4 days after birth and usually ends around day 10. This period is characterised by irritability, tearfulness, anxiety and low mood. Women with “Baby Blues” usually find this improves after two weeks and do not need treatment for this.

So, what are the symptoms of Postnatal Depression?

Symptoms of postnatal depression are similar to symptoms of depression that may occur at other times:

  • Feeling low and tearful most or all the time

  • Irritability or anger towards others, baby or yourself

  • Tiredness and low motivation (it is normal to feel tired as a new mum but postnatal depression usually exacerbates this)

  • Loss of enjoyment or interest in life (this can include lack of enjoyment of your baby)

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep

  • Loss of appetite

  • Negative thoughts about yourself or those around you (e.g thinking that you are a bad mother) and feelings of guilt

  • Anxiety (this could be related to your baby’s safety)

  • Suicidal thoughts – a sense of hopelessness or thoughts that your baby is better off without you *

  • Disconnection – feeling that things are not real or not feeling a connection with your baby.

How can I access support?

If any of the symptoms above persist past 10-14 days after birth, you may need professional support. Talking therapies and/or medication are two ways that women can be supported when they are experiencing postnatal depression. Speaking to your GP, midwife or health visitor is the first step to accessing support. Your GP can also advise of medication that is safe to take during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding.

Some women with severe mental health difficulties may need more intensive support and many areas have a Perinatal Mental Health team that can support women and their mental health through the perinatal period. Your GP, midwife or health visitor can refer you to such a service if this is appropriate.

*If you are experiencing thoughts of wanting to harm yourself/others or end your life, call your GP, out of hours GP, NHS 111 (Option 2), or attend A&E.

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