Feeling depressed after childbirth
The baby blues
During the first week after childbirth, many women get what’s often called the ‘baby blues’. Women can feel down or depressed at a time when they expect they should feel happy at having a baby to look after. ‘Baby blues’ are probably due to the sudden hormonal and chemical changes that take place in your body after childbirth.
Symptoms can include:
- Feeling emotional and irrational
- Bursting into tears for no apparent reason
- Feeling irritable or touchy
- Feeling depressed or anxious
All these symptoms are normal and usually only last for a few days.
Is it postnatal depression?
Depression after a baby is born can be extremely distressing. Postnatal depression is thought to affect around 1 in 10 women (and up to 4 in 10 teenage mothers).
Many women suffer in silence. Their friends, relatives and health professionals don’t know how they’re feeling.
Postnatal depression usually occurs two to eight weeks after the birth, though sometimes it can happen up to a year after the baby is born.
Symptoms such as tiredness, irritability or poor appetite are normal if you’ve just had a baby. But these are usually mild and don’t stop you leading a normal life.
When you have postnatal depression, you may feel increasingly depressed and despondent. Looking after yourself or your baby may become too much. Emotional signs of postnatal depression may include:
- Loss of interest in the baby
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Not being able to stop crying
- Feelings of not being able to cope
- Not being able to enjoy anything
- Memory loss or being unable to concentrate
- Excessive anxiety about the baby
Other signs of postnatal depression may also include:
- Panic attacks
- Extreme tiredness
- Aches and pains
- Feeling generally unwell
- Loss of appetite
Getting help for postnatal depression
If you think you have postnatal depression, don’t struggle alone. It’s not a sign that you’re a bad mother or are unable to cope. Postnatal depression is an illness and you need to get help, just as you would if you had the flu or a broken leg.
Talk to someone you trust, such as your partner or a friend. Or ask your health visitor to call in and visit you. Many health visitors have been trained to recognise postnatal depression and have techniques that can help. If they can’t help, they’ll know someone in your area who can.
It’s also important to see your GP. If you don’t feel up to making an appointment, ask someone to do it for you.
Treatment for postnatal depression
Milder cases of postnatal depression can be treated with counselling. This can be given by the health visitor or a therapist. More severe cases often require antidepressants and you may need to see a specialist.
It’s important to let your GP know if you’re breastfeeding. If you need to take antidepressants, they’ll prescribe a type of medication that’s suitable while you’re breastfeeding.
Your local children’s centre can put you in touch with your nearest postnatal group. These groups provide contact with other new mothers and encourage mums to support each other. They offer social activities and help with parenting skills.
Alcohol may appear to help you relax and unwind. In fact, it’s a depressant that affects your mood, judgement, self-control and co-ordination. It has even more of an effect if you’re tired and run-down. Be careful about when and how much you drink, and don’t drink alcohol if you’re taking anti-depressants or tranquillisers.
This condition, which is also called puerperal psychosis, is extremely rare. Only one or two mothers in 1,000 develop a severe psychiatric illness that requires medical or hospital treatment after the birth of a baby. This illness can develop within hours of childbirth and is very serious, needing urgent attention.
Other people usually notice it first as the mother often acts strangely. It is more likely to happen if you have a severe mental illness, a past history of severe mental illness or a family history of perinatal mental illness. Specialist mother and baby units can provide expert treatment without separating you from your baby.
Most women make a complete recovery, although this may take a few weeks or months.
Postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often the result of a traumatic birth, such as a long or painful labour, or an emergency or problematic delivery. It can also develop after other types of trauma, such as:
A fear of dying or your baby dying
- Life-threatening situations
The symptoms of postnatal PTSD can occur alone or in addition to the symptoms of postnatal depression.
The symptoms can develop straight after the birth or months afterwards.
It’s extremely important to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Your midwife, GP or health visitor will be able help you. If you’re worried about talking to a health professional, consider asking a close friend or family member to come with you for support.
There are effective treatments available, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and medications. Read more about treatments for PTSD.