The importance of recognising postnatal depression

Woman struggling with postnatal depression
Postnatal depression, otherwise known as postpartum depression (PPD), isn’t just the ‘baby blues’. It can be debilitating, confusing, and it may have a significant impact on you, your baby and your family.
Unfortunately, postnatal depression is common, affecting more than 1 in every 10 women within a year of giving birth. But it doesn’t only affect new mothers–it can also affect fathers and partners, too.
In this guide we’ll discuss what postnatal depression is, what causes it, and answer the questions new parents may be asking about the condition.

What is postnatal depression?

It’s normal for many women to feel slightly down, anxious or tearful during the first week after giving birth–after all, your hormones will be all over the place! This stage is often referred to as the ‘baby blues’ and it’s very common.
This will usually go away on its own, but if your low mood persists for longer than 2 weeks after giving birth or your symptoms begin later, this may be a sign of postnatal depression.
You can develop postnatal depression at any time during the first year after giving birth, and many women don’t realise they actually have postnatal depression as the symptoms can develop gradually over time. The symptoms of postnatal depression may include:

  • A continuous feeling of sadness and low mood
  • A loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • A lack of energy
  • Difficulty sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day
  • Trouble bonding with your baby
  • Withdrawing yourself from other people
  • Problems concentrating and making decisions
  • Frightening, disturbing thoughts, like hurting your baby or yourself

Holding a baby

What causes postnatal depression?

The cause of postnatal depression is not fully understood, however, there are numerous things that may increase your chances of developing postnatal depression. This includes:

  • A history of mental health problems, especially depression
  • A history of mental health problems in previous pregnancies
  • Having no close family or friends to support you
  • Having relationship issues with your partner
  • A recent, stressful life event
  • Trauma, such as domestic violence
  • Having the ‘baby blues’

Having a baby is a huge, life-changing event that may trigger depression. It takes time to adjust and adapt your life around becoming a new parent, as caring for a small baby can be daunting, stressful and exhausting.

Can postnatal depression be prevented?

There are multiple things you can do that may prevent you from developing postnatal depression, like sticking to a healthy lifestyle and having somebody, such as your partner or a family member, there who you can turn to for support.
It’s also a good idea to attend antenatal classes and make friends with other new parents who may be going through the same struggles as you.
If you’ve experienced postnatal depression in a previous pregnancy, talk with your midwife or your GP who can refer you to an appropriate service that may lessen your chances of developing postnatal depression in your current pregnancy.

What to do if you think you have postnatal depression

If you or your partner are showing symptoms of postnatal depression, it’s important that you speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor as soon as possible. Once you have the appropriate treatment and support, most women will make a full recovery.
Your GP may suggest self-help, such as talking about your feelings, psychological therapy, or a course of antidepressants which may be recommended if your depression is severe and other methods haven’t helped. Ultimately, you should work together with your GP to discuss what the best option is for you.
Couple in bed with a baby
As part of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s essential that we recognise postnatal depression as a real, sometimes frightening, mental disorder that many new parents face. 
It’s vital that we spot the signs of postnatal depression so every family can access the necessary support and enjoy this special time with their new arrival. If you need any more information about postnatal depression, visit the NHS website.

Alexandra Moses - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 15 March 2023
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