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What is Postnatal Depression

Read time: 7 minutes (long read)

The first few months with a newborn baby are widely known to be an emotional and often exhausting time for the parents. For some new parents, however, these feelings can develop into postnatal depression or PND.

This form of depression is quite common, despite how rarely it is talked about, affecting around 1 in 10 people in the first year after giving birth. Partners can also develop PND. 

Postnatal depression shares the symptoms of depression, but happens within the first year of birth. Often postnatal depression begins within around two months of giving birth, and for some people, the symptoms can begin during pregnancy and continue post-birth.

Symptoms can include persistent low-mood and can affect how you feel about yourself, your child and those around you. It’s hard to know exactly what causes postnatal depression, but it's important to remember that giving birth and having a newborn is a huge experience, both for your body and your mind.

For some people, more complicated pregnancies, traumatic birth experiences, previous mental health issues and stress life events can trigger postnatal depression, but the cause can also remain unknown. 

Birth can change your responsibilities, your identity, your hormones and your body which is all a lot to think about and process. Postnatal depression does not mean that you cannot form a relationship with your newborn. Many new parents experience emotional difficulties after birth, and go on to have happy and fulfilling relationships with their child and partner.

Depression and PND

Postnatal depression tends to share a lot of the same symptoms as depression. You may feel:

  • Persistently sad or low- whilst many people experience feelings of the ‘baby blues’ for around 2 weeks after giving birth, if this continues it is really important to reach out for some extra support.
  • Loss of interest or enthusiasm in hobbies or external events,
  • Feeling tired or having difficulty with sleeping patterns,
  • Struggling to bond with your baby, and associated feelings of guilt or negative thoughts,
  • Feeling withdrawn from your friends, family or others,
  • Difficulties with making decisions easily and poor concentration,
  • Loss of appetite,
  • Being easily agitated, or feeling emotional
  • Suicidal thoughts, and self-harm coming from feelings of hopelessness, guilt, loneliness and self-neglect.

You may also experience feelings of inadequacy, anxiety about your baby, or worry that your baby is rejecting you. Other people with postnatal depression have spoken about having persistent or obsessive fears, which could be around illness or death of your baby, or thoughts about harming the baby. It is incredibly rare that mothers act on this, and so these thoughts may be understood as recurring or obsessive anxieties.

Postnatal depression can have short and long term effects on your relationship with your partner, family and baby. In a lot of cases, postnatal depression goes undiagnosed and untreated, and it can be difficult to access the support you need after giving birth or with a newborn to look after.

Another very rare condition that can develop within the first week after delivery is called postpartum psychosis. Whilst this is rare, it is a serious mental health illness, and needs urgent attention. The symptoms of this psychosis include: hearing voices and hallucinating; feeling a manic mood’ having delusions; feeling an exceptionally low mood; feeling suspicious of those around you; feeling restless; feelings of confusion; behaving in a way that is unlike you usually. If you or someone close to you is experiencing this, it is important to speak to a GP immediately or call 111 or 999 if there is a risk of harm.

Methods of self-help

When experiencing postnatal or postpartum depression symptoms, it is really important to listen to your body and your mind and seek support and help.

For many people who have just given birth, their own health and wellbeing come second to that of the newborn, but it's just as important to keep yourself safe and happy.

If you are feeling nervous about disclosing your feelings to a doctor due to fears that your baby may be taken off you, remember that this only happens in extremely exceptional circumstances and is highly unlikely to happen due to postnatal depression. It is also important to be able to trust your doctor. If you feel like your doctor is not responding well to your needs, or is not providing the support you need, you should always feel confident to go and find a different doctor.

There are many different forms of support, treatment and self-help that can help you through this.

  • Talk about how you are feeling. There is a lot of stigma around postnatal depression and feelings of sadness after giving birth. Some people feel guilty that they aren’t feeling as happy as everyone expects them to be, and it can be hard to break through this. Talking to people who are close to you, and people who you trust is a good place to start, possibly with your partner, close friends or family members.
  • Ask for help and accept help when it is offered! There’s so much pressure on new parents to fulfil all of their child’s needs and their own, but you can’t do it all on your own. There will be times when you will need a break, and it’s important to know when these times come. If someone offers to do your shopping, or clean your house, accept! And if they don’t offer, feel confident in asking.
  • Asking for support from others may also give you time to rest. This is so important and yet so difficult with a newborn. If your partner or friend can help with a few night shifts, then you could get some of that much-needed sleep.
  • Getting into some routine with your food, sleep and exercise could also boost your mood. Whilst this is difficult with a newborn, getting out once a day is good for you and your baby, and might allow you to meet some new people, including new parents.
  • Speaking to other new parents is a good way to find some companionship in your experiences. Whilst not everyone experiences postnatal depression, many new parents can feel down or exhausted after having a child, and talking to those people could help you process some of your thoughts, and realise how common your feelings are. You could meet some new parents through local parent and baby groups, on a walk in the park or through specialist organisations.
  • Make some music playlists to listen to at different times in the day. Often the busyness of new parent life means people can miss old joys. Having music playing in your home can lift the mood, and remind you of times that felt easier.
  • Try to figure out what cooking method works best for you. For some people, batch cooking alleviates some of the strain of the week, but for others cooking daily meals is a good way to relax. Try both ways and see which suits you!

Where to go for more support

  • This NHS browser gives information on postnatal support services near you. It offers a range of services so you can take your pick on what might suit you. You could meet other parents in similar situations or just speak to a professional about how you are feeling.
  • The NHS also has an App Library that could help you develop some techniques of mindfulness, or help you make the most of the moments of rest that you get. Have a look and see what might fit your needs best.
  • There is specialist support available for those at risk of or who have develop symptoms of PND, accessible via their midwife, GP and/or health visitor and you can speak with any of these access specialist services.
  • Groups like Home Start can be a great starting point when figuring out what you need. Click here for their support for people going through postnatal depression. They offer a range of services for families with different needs and can put you in touch with a volunteer, or a group of new parents to talk to.
  • There are also support groups and programmes for people specifically experiencing postnatal depression, including Action on Postpartum Psychosis, and Pandas.
  • Alongside these specialist organisations, you can also work with more general mental health groups. Mind runs a group called Side by Side where you can talk about how you are feeling to other people experiencing difficulties with their mental health.
  • Remember you can talk to your GP about how you are feeling. Whilst it can feel intimidating, the GP is there to help you.
  • Other charities and voluntary organisations including Family Action, Association for Postnatal Illness, and NCT have loads of information online, and can offer support groups and one-to-one sessions.

By: Iona Taylor

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