mum with baby looking worried

Weeping at TV adverts and euphoria when they smile – there’s no doubting that having a baby is one of life’s biggest emotional rollercoasters. Here’s what you can expect from your mood in the days, weeks and months after you give birth…

It’s hard to describe to anyone how much having a baby flips your life – and your mind – upside down. Your emotions are likely to be all over the place after you give birth and leap between utter joy and complete despair in the space of two minutes. A whopping 81% of women said they’d experienced a maternal mental health problem after giving birth (RCOG, 2017).

As with all things mental health related, it’s great to share your feelings, though that can be daunting. Here’s how you could make a start on working through things…

How to lessen the load

Try talking to your partner, friends and family or to other new parents who might be going through the same thing.

Try to open up to your health visitor as well about things and see your GP if you need to. Your six-week postnatal check is a chance to talk about how you are feeling as well as talking about your baby.

The good thing is that treatment does help, with 82% of women treated for mental health problems after their babies were born saying treatment had helped (NCT, 2017). So don’t delay asking for help.

Emotions you might be experiencing

The baby blues

No matter how much you love or are grateful for your baby, the baby blues can affect you. The baby blues usually arrive in the first week after you give birth (NHS, 2018a).

A lot of new mums find themselves feeling weepy and irritable and not knowing why. But if it happens to you, don’t worry, most new mums go through it (NICE, 2014). The baby blues is not an illness and you should see the back of it without any medical treatment. This’ll probably happen by the time your baby is around 10 days old (MIND, 2018).

If you’re still feeling low after this, speak to your GP or midwife as it might be something more serious. Read more about the baby blues here.

Postnatal depression (PND)

Depression can affect both mums and dads in the weeks and months after birth, so it’s something to be aware of and look out for (NHS, 2018a).

No single answer tells us why some new parents are affected and not others (NHS, 2018a). However, emotional and stressful events can bring on depression, and having a baby can definitely be both of those things.

If you are concerned that you or your partner may have PND, speak to your GP or health visitor. The recovery from PND is gradual but with help and support you can get better (NHS, 2018a). Read more about PND here.

Postpartum or puerperal psychosis

Postpartum psychosis (also known as puerperal psychosis) is a serious mental illness that will require psychiatric treatment and a stay in hospital. This condition is rare, affecting only one or two mums in every 1,000. It most commonly occurs in the first month after having a baby (NICE, 2014).

The main symptoms of puerperal psychosis are delusions, hallucinations, confused thoughts and a lack of self-awareness (NHS, 2017). In very severe cases, a woman may try to harm her baby and/or herself. If you are, or know someone who may be, suffering from puerperal psychosis, you should get medical help from your GP, midwife or health visitor immediately.

How to help someone who is low or depressed

You might find living with your partner or seeing your family member who’s depressed hard, sad and frustrating (MIND, 2018). Try to never blame them or be judgemental though: instead, try to support them and listen. That way you understand a bit more what they’re going through.

Perhaps the most important thing to recognise is that someone suffering from depression may need encouragement to seek help, and support to get it (MIND, 2018). You can also reassure them that they will feel better, in time.

Helping yourself feel better

  • Share your feelings with people you trust. It’s important to feel understood and supported so speak to a friend or family member, or a counsellor or health visitor, who you know will listen and won’t judge.
  • Talking to other mums and dads can be super reassuring and make you feel a lot less alone and isolated.
  • Try and get help with the childcare and grab a bit of you time, even if it’s just an hour here or there.
  • It’s a cliché but a true one: exercise really does help, so head out for a brisk walk with the baby in the pram or go for a swim. You’ll notice a mood improvement when the endorphins kick in.
  • Try as much as you can not to grab cake as a short-term fix: eating badly or skipping meals can make you feel tired and irritable, so try to eat simple and nutritious meals. Foods rich in omega 3 oils (oily fish, seeds and nuts) might help with depression. Though we’re not ruling out the occasional chocolate brownie.
  • Learn to say yes to all offers of help and support. Whether offers involve whizzing a vacuum around, walking your dog or arriving with a home-cooked pie (never say no to pie) – just say yes please.
  • Give yourself time to adjust. Parenthood is a huge change in your life so go easy on yourself and be patient while you go through the transition.

(MIND, 2018)

This page was last reviewed in January 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

You might also like to try one of our NCT Yoga for Pregnancy classes, which aim to help improve your physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as feel more confident and positive.

Mind, a leading mental health charity, provides information on a range of mental health topics including postnatal depression and has an infoline for support: 0300 123 3393.

#PNDHour is an online peer support group that runs every Wednesday at 8pm via the Twitter account @PNDandMe. Anyone can join in to discuss topics about antenatal and postnatal depression, such as self-care, medication and seeking help. It’s run by a mum called Rosey who also blogs about her own experiences with antenatal and postnatal depression, as well as raising awareness of perinatal mental illness, at PND and me.

We are grateful to Dr Andrew Mayers, a psychologist specialising in child and family mental health (particularly perinatal mental illness) and sleep (especially children), for his help in reviewing the information on this page.

The Association for Postnatal Illness is a charity that provides support to mothers suffering from postnatal illness and increases public awareness of the illness.

NHS Choices has information on postnatal depression.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has information on postnatal depression.

Effective psychotherapeutic treatments may be found in your area. Check out the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy, the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and the British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC) for a list of recommended therapists. Well Scotland or Niamh (in Northern Ireland), leading providers of mental health information in their regions, for further information on PND.

Huang C, Warner L. (2005) Relationship characteristics and depression among fathers with newborns.  Social Service Review. 79(1):95-118.  Available from: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/426719 [Accessed 1st February 2018].  

MIND (2018) Postnatal Depression and Perinatal Mental Heath Problems pages.  Available from: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-prob… [Accessed 2nd January 2018].

Nazereth I. (2011) Should men be screened and treated for postnatal depression? Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics. 11(1):1-3. Available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1586/ern.10.183?scroll=top&needA… [Accessed 1st February 2018].

NCT (2017) The hidden half. Bringing postnatal mental illness out of hiding. Available from: https://www.nct.org.uk/sites/default/files/related_documents/NCT%20The%… [Accessed 1st February 2018].

NHS (2017) Postpartum psychosis. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-partum-psychosis/ [Accessed 2nd January 2018].

NHS (2018a) Postnatal depression. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-natal-depression/ [Accessed 2nd January 2018].

NHS (2018b) Feeling depressed after childbirth.  Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/feeling-depressed-afte…? [Accessed 2nd January 2018].

NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). (2014) Antenatal and postnatal mental health. Clinical management and service guidance CG192.  Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg192/evidence/full-guideline-pdf-1933… [Accessed 2nd January 2018].

RCOG (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists). (2017) Maternal mental health – women’s voices. Available from: https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/information/mat… [Accessed 1st February 2018].

Wee KY, Skouteris J, Pier C, Richardson B, Milgrom J. (2010) Correlates of ante- and postnatal depression in fathers: a systematic review. Journal of Affective Discord; 130(3):358-377. Available from: http://www.jad-journal.com/article/S0165-0327(10)00447-7/fulltext  [Accessed 1st February 2018].

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