What is postnatal depression?

Having a baby is usually thought of as a happy time. However, as a new mother, you may not necessarily feel this straight away.

You may go through a brief period of feeling emotional and tearful – known as the ‘baby blues’. It usually starts 3-10 days after giving birth and affects around 85 percent of new mothers. It is so common that it is considered normal. New fathers may also feel it. And, although having the baby blues may be distressing, it’s important to be aware that it doesn’t last long – usually only a few days – and is generally quite manageable.

However, around 10-15 percent of new mothers develop a much deeper and longer-term depression known as postnatal depression (PND).

It usually develops within six weeks of giving birth and can come on gradually or all of a sudden. It can range from being relatively mild to very severe.

Common signs of postnatal depression

You may experience one or more of the following symptoms. However, it is unlikely that you will go through all of them.

How you may feel:

  • sad and low
  • tearful for no apparent reason
  • worthless
  • hopeless about the future
  • tired
  • unable to cope
  • irritable and angry
  • guilty
  • hostile or indifferent to your husband or partner
  • hostile or indifferent to your baby

You may find that you

  • lose concentration
  • have disturbed sleep
  • find it hard to sleep – even when you have the opportunity
  • have a reduced appetite
  • lack of interest in sex
  • have thoughts about death

As babies need care and attention frequently, including during the night, it is common to feel tired in the months following the birth of a child. And lack of sleep can make you feel both low and irritable. This is normal, and it is important not to confuse this with PND. However, one indication that you are going through PND is if you find it hard to sleep even when you’re tired and have the opportunity to do so.

“My postnatal depression snuck up on me as a dark shadow, every morning waking up and noticing a heaviness and blackness to my mood. The only ‘comforts’ were private fantasies about ending it all, running away, escaping my responsibilities, tearing myself to shreds to try and grasp why I felt so bleak.”

If you experience thoughts about death or harming yourself or the baby, this can be very frightening, and may make you feel as if you are going mad or completely out of control. You may be afraid to tell anyone about these feelings.But it’s important to realise that having these thoughts doesn’t mean that you are actually going to harm yourself or your children. However difficult it is, the more you can bring these feelings out into the open and talk about them, whether to a family member, a friend or a health professional, the less likely you will be to act on them.

Diagnosing postnatal depression

Experience of depression or other mental health problems before your child is born can put you at greater risk of developing PND. Health professionals should therefore ask about your wellbeing and mental health, during your pregnancy.

 

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