Postnatal depression: The questions you really want to ask

Heard it discussed but still feel in the dark? Here are the answers to the most common postnatal depression questions…

What is postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression (PND) is the most common perinatal mental health disorder women experience in the first year after having a baby (NICE, 2014). Between 10% and 20% of women have depression and anxiety in pregnancy and after birth (Coates, 2016). PND is an illness and will get better in time.

Watch our video below where three mums talk about what it feels like to experience postnatal mental health issues. 

How do I know if I have postnatal depression?

A good place to start is NHS Choices’ depression screening tool. Women who are concerned should make an appointment to see their GP or call 111.

Feel proud of yourself for seeking help because recognising that you’re suffering from postnatal depression is the most important step to getting better (Boots Alliance Trust, 2013). It’s probably also the hardest step.

Is postnatal depression like other forms of depression?

Yes, in a lot of ways. Like depression at other times in life, it can be mild, moderate or severe. It can come on gradually or suddenly. (NICE, 2014)

The main difference though is that it can be a lot trickier to recognise. That’s because your mental state is likely to change in the weeks and months after you have a baby anyway (NICE, 2014). You will also have such a lot going on around you.

When do people get postnatal depression?

It usually comes on within six weeks of giving birth although it can emerge up to a year after your baby is born (MIND, 2017). While postnatal depression should dissipate within a few months, 30% of people with PND will still be ill after the first year (NICE, 2014).

What are postnatal depression symptoms?

They can include:

  • feeling down and teary

  • an inability to concentrate

  • low sex drive

  • feeling worthless

  • inability to feel happiness

  • sleep problems

  • anger

  • finding it difficult to leave the house

  • overeating

  • problems bonding with your baby

  • suicidal thoughts.

(Boots Alliance Trust, 2013)

PND often goes unreported, why is that?

A terrifying 30% of new mums with perinatal mental health problems had never talked about it to a professional (Boots Alliance Trust, 2013).

First, this is because symptoms can be difficult to recognise when your life has just gone through such a large shift anyway (NICE, 2014; NHS Choices, 2017). And there’s another reason: women worry that people will judge them or even that social services may take away their baby from them (NICE, 2014; Ayers and Delicate, 2016).

Try to remember that postnatal depression doesn’t mean you are doing anything bad. It just means that you’re suffering from an illness and deserve to get some help.

How do I know if I’m at risk of postnatal depression?

You can’t really but there are a number of risk factors. You’re more likely to get postnatal depression if you:

  • have an ongoing mental health problem

  • have a family or personal history of PND

  • have had a traumatic birth experience like a stillbirth

  • live in a bad or violent social or economic situation

  • are a refugee or asylum seeker

  • have a history of childhood or adulthood abuse

  • have poor social support.

    (RCOG, 2011; NICE, 2014; Ayers and Delicate, 2016)

Speak to your GP or midwife if you think you are at risk of postnatal depression.

Is it important to get help for postnatal depression?

Yes. By speaking to your GP, midwife or health visitor and accessing the right treatment and support, you can get better (Shakespeare, 2015). If not, it can have major consequences for your mental health, your relationship, your partner’s mental health and the development of your baby (Fatherhood Institute, 2010; Howard et al, 2014; Ayers and Delicate, 2016).

Treatments to try include talking therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or anti-depressants (talk to your GP for advice if you’re breastfeeding) (NICE, 2014; NHS Choices 2017). If postnatal depression becomes severe or develops into postpartum psychosis, you might need a stay in hospital or mother and baby unit (RCOG, 2011; NHS Choices, 2017).

Is there anything else I can do to help?

Yes, here are a few self-care tips:

1. Build a support network and make time to meet friends and other mums for a much-needed cup of tea and a chat (NEF, 2008).

2. Accept offers of help. It might be your mum dusting your living room or your best friend walking your newborn around the block so you can lie down. Whatever it is, take it (Boots Alliance Trust, 2013).

3. Make time for a run or rejoin your old netball team. Exercise can work wonders for the way you feel (Cooney et al, 2013). It is also a great long-term practice for safeguarding your mental health (NEF, 2008; NHS Choices, 2017).

4. Try to eat healthily and regularly, and cut back on caffeine and alcohol (NHS Choices, 2017).

5. Get showered and dressed, even if your plan for today is to go no further than the back door to put some nappies in the bin (MIND, 2017).

6. Be mindful – apps like Headspace can help improve your mental wellbeing and help you to deal with daily challenges (NEF, 2008). You can even practice mindfulness on the sofa while your newborn is feeding.

7. Keep a mood diary. It can help you notice how people, places and activities affect your mood (MIND, 2017).

8. Sign up to a baby massage class at NCT or with your local children’s centre through a referral from your health visitor (NHS Choices, 2017).

9. Contact local or national specialist organisations – they may offer the opportunity to talk to other women who are going through the same thing. Services available might include a dedicated telephone helpline, a buddy service, online support, support groups, counselling and wellbeing sessions.

This page was last reviewed in June 2018

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support in many areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of our 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.

Contact specialist organisations like PANDAS for more help and support with postnatal depression.