Feeling low after you have had a baby is not unusual. It does not mean that you do not love or care for your baby. Women may experience:

The baby-blues

"My husband was late visiting and that was it. I felt abandoned. So I shouted at him and then burst into tears".

About half of new mothers experience this mild type of depression, usually around the third to tenth day after giving birth.

You may feel sad, tearful, cross or irritable for no obvious reason. The blues can last for a few hours or a few days but they are usually over by the end of the first two weeks or so.

No medical treatment is needed but anyone going through them will probably feel better for some practical help, peace and quiet and opportunities to sleep.

Postnatal depression

"I wore the same jogging bottoms and T-shirt for weeks. I couldn’t cope with making my mind up about anything".

PND affects some 10% of new mothers and is more common in women who have previously suffered from depression.

It affects women in different ways. The symptoms can begin soon after birth and last for months, or in severe cases for over a year.

You may have PND if you have some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Low mood and finding it hard to see the funny side of things for a long period (over a week) – some women feel so low they avoid meeting people 
  • Tearfulness 
  • Irritable for a lot of the time 
  • Feeling unable to cope or overwhelmed 
  • Feeeling guilty, rejected or inadequate 
  • Feeling anxious, maybe worried over world problems you can’t influence 
  • Panic attacks or feeling trapped in your life 
  • Difficulty concentrating You find coping with your baby’s crying very difficult 
  • Difficulty sleeping even though you are exhausted, or endlessly craving sleep 
  • Low energy and lack of motivation 
  • Lack of appetite 
  • You find making decisions, even about simple things, is very hard. 
  • Lack of interest in yourself and your new baby 
  • Physical signs of tension, such as headaches, stomach pains or blurred vision

It is not known what causes postnatal depression. Suggested contributing factors include genes, hormones, birth experience, the way in which a mother adjusts to a new role, feelings of isolation and environmental difficulities e.g. financial hardship. Women who have a history of depression or other mental health conditions, are more at risk of developing PND.

PND interferes with your day-to-day life and can prevent you from leaving the house or keeping in touch with friends.

Many mothers do not recognise that they have PND. It is important for partners, family members and friends to recognise the signs and to seek professional advice as soon as possible.

Talking to your midwife, health visitor or GP as soon as possible will get you the help that you need. Although some women feel very uncomfortable about having a label of depression, some feel relieved to be given a name for their feelings.

Puerperal psychosis

A rare, serious form of depression which affects about one mother in 500. As well as the symptoms of severe depression, mothers may also have delusions, hallucinations and irrational or suicidal thoughts.

It is thought to be triggered by chemical and hormonal changes in the body that occur after birth. It is vital that sufferers are seen by their GP as soon as possible, because their health and the health of their baby may be at risk.

Help and support on offer

Talking therapies

Many women find that some form of talking therapy, combined with practical support, really helps. You might be comfortable talking to your health visitor, doctor or a counsellor. Your doctor may also discuss referring you to a psychologist, psychiatrist, counsellor or community psychiatric nurse. Cognitive behavioural therapy, which focuses on coping strategies and challenging unhelpful beliefs, may be offered.

If you feel you can’t ask for help by yourself, you can ask someone to come with you to visit the doctor, to help you explain.

Talking to other mothers who have also experienced PND may be helpful to you. You can email our volunteers at pnd_hinct@yahoo.co.uk.

Drug treatments

For some women with PND, antidepressants help. Women come off the antidepressants gradually, as they recover. A depressed mother who is breastfeeding needs to inform her doctor and speak to a pharmacist there are several different sorts of antidepressants, and not all are safe to take while breastfeeding.

Ways you can help yourself

"I’m doing some small new thing every day and the fog and the panic are gradually receding".

Self-help suggestions:

  • Build time for yourself into every day 
  • Take one day at a time. 
  • Set yourself small goals each day, such as phoning a friend 
  • Eat well. Fast food doesn’t have to be junk food. Try a piece of fruit and cheese with wholemeal bread for lunch – it’s quick and easy 
  • Rest if you can, and get help with the chores 
  • Do the jobs you must do in the morning. PND is often worse as the day goes on. 
  • Talk things through with people you trust 
  • If you wake at night, you might feel like trying to relax by reading or listening to music 
  • Try not to worry if you can’t sleep 
  • Do only what you feel able to do. Don’t worry about what you think you ought to do. You will be able to do more as time goes on. 
  • Reward yourself when you have done something successfully, however small. 
  • Accept that there will still be bad days, even when you are on the way to recovering. It will take time. 
  • Remember you will get better and will be able to enjoy things again.

Other useful links

NHS Choices

The Association for Post-Natal Illness

Mind

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