What is Postnatal Depression?
What is Postnatal Depression?
This content has been reviewed and approved for quality and accuracy by James O'Loan (GPhC: 2084549)
Becoming a parent is a very exciting and wonderful achievement.
However, pregnancy and childbirth can put a lot of pressure on you both physically and mentally.
Many people experience, what is known as, the 'baby blues' after giving birth to their child, but if you are feeling down or depressed for longer than 2 weeks or you start to feel depressed a while after you have given birth, you may have postnatal depression.
With all the stress and fatigue that goes with having a new baby, it may be hard to know if how you are feeling is just exhaustion and stress or postnatal depression.
In this guide, we will let you know everything you need to know about what postnatal depression is, the signs of postnatal depression and how to treat it.
Is postnatal depression a mental illness?
Yes, postnatal depression is a mental illness.
It is a form of clinical depression that can be experienced by mothers (and more rarely) their partners.
It is a common condition that affects more than 1 in 10 women within 12 months after giving birth.
Although many mothers may feel a little down or worried within the first week after giving birth if you notice symptoms, such as persistent low mood, difficulty bonding with your baby or frightening thoughts, seek advice from your doctor.
It is important to seek medical advice, as untreated postnatal depression can have an effect for months and can have a significant impact on you, your baby and your family.
With treatment, such as therapy, it doesn't have to be a long-term condition.
Can fathers experience postnatal depression?
Some studies have concluded that partners can experience symptoms of anxiety or depression around the time their child is born.
The chances of experiencing depression or anxiety during your partner's pregnancy or after birth increase if you:
- Don't have an effective support network
- Are having to cope with other stressful triggers, such as bereavement
- Have financial or work pressures
- Have poor living conditions
- Experienced abuse in childhood
Becoming a parent is wonderful, but it can bring a lot of pressure and stress, so it is possible for the father to experience postnatal depression.
What does postnatal depression feel like?
Postnatal depression can cause a variety of symptoms including:
- Feeling low or tearful
- Feeling irritable
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Having trouble sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of interest in anything - you may not enjoy spending time with your baby
- Lack of sexual interest
- Feelings of guilt
When you have a new baby, it is typical to feel tired, have trouble sleeping and low mood.
A lack of sleep due to caring for your baby is going to make you very tired and may cause you to feel emotionally overwhelmed, snappy and a bit low.
Similarly, your body has been through a lot during pregnancy and birth, so it is natural that you may not want sex due to being too tired or sore.
These feelings are completely natural and should improve, as you heal and as you develop of a routine with your child.
The difference with postnatal depression is you will experience these feelings or a long period of time and they are not necessarily directly triggered by raising a baby.
You may feel disconnected with your baby and/or your partner and family.
If you experience any of the following symptoms for longer than 2 weeks after birth, schedule an appointment with your doctor.
When does postnatal depression start?
Postnatal depression may not necessarily start straight after birth.
Symptoms may develop, suddenly or gradually, within the first year after birth.
It will last for a long period of time (at least 2 weeks) and symptoms will have a significant effect day-to-day life, the relationship with your baby, partner, family and friends.
If you or your partner is experiencing symptoms of postnatal depression, it is important to seek help and not ignore the problem as it can continue for months or longer if untreated.
What causes postnatal depression?
There isn't one singular cause for postnatal depression and there are a variety of different triggers that may contribute to experiencing it.
You may be more likely to experience postnatal depression if you have:
- Previous history of mental health problems, such as depression
- Experiencing depression or anxiety during your pregnancy
- Lack of effective support from your family or partner
- Experiencing a stressful event around or after giving birth
- Domestic violence or abuse
It is also possible to experience postnatal depression due to physical causes, such as an underactive thyroid or a lack of vitamin B12.
Of course, like all mental illnesses, it is possible to experience postnatal depression without any real cause and if you have experienced trauma or mental illnesses before giving birth, it doesn't necessarily mean you will have postnatal depression.
Can postnatal depression be prevented?
As we mentioned before, sometimes postnatal depression is experienced for no reason at all, so it can be difficult to prevent.
The best steps you can take to look after yourself mentally are to:
- Avoid trying to do everything - seek support from your family and partner
- Try and make friends with other mothers
- Seek support from friends or postnatal/mental health organisation
- Attend antenatal classes
- Keep in contact with your GP and your health visitor if you are experiencing symptoms of postnatal depression
- Don't keep your symptoms to yourself - share how you are feeling with other people
How to treat postnatal depression
It is important to seek advice from your doctor when you experience symptoms of postnatal depression.
Although it is possible for postnatal depression to ease without any treatment, postnatal depression can hinder the enjoyment of being a parent and you may feel unable to look after yourself or your baby properly.
There are a variety of treatments available to treat postnatal depression including:
- CBT - Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy
- Support groups and helplines