mum with baby looking worried

Giving birth and having a child are profound emotional experiences. This article outlines some of the emotions you may encounter after having a baby.

Having a baby is a life-changing experience. It is physically challenging but also deeply emotional. Many new parents will feel joy and happiness but perhaps also worried and nervous about the responsibility of having a newborn to look after.

Sharing your feelings - and how you're coping with parenthood - can be daunting but also helpful. Try talking to your partner, friends and family about your emotions after birth. You might also find it reassuring to talk to other new parents who will be experiencing many of the same emotions and challenges that you are.

The baby blues

During the first week after giving birth, many new mums can find themselves feeling weepy and irritable. This is called the ‘baby blues’ and it is experienced by up to 80% of mums after giving birth.

There are various theories about what causes the baby blues, but no definitive answer. What is clear is suddenly your body has some major adjustments to make. You may also be experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions, such as great joy but at the same time overwhelmed with the responsibility of looking after your baby.

Symptoms of the baby blues include:

  • feeling emotional and irrational,
  • bursting into tears for no apparent reason,
  • feeling irritable or touchy and/or 
  • feeling depressed or anxious.

The baby blues is not an illness and should lift, without any medical treatment, by the time your baby is around 10 days old. It is natural to experience some conflicted feelings after birth. If you’re still feeling low after this, you could have postnatal depression.

Postnatal depression (PND)

Depression can affect both mums and dads in the weeks and months after birth. There is no single answer as to why some new parents are affected and not others.

Depression can be brought on by emotional and stressful events and having a baby can feel unsettling. Changes in your relationships and friendships, extreme fatigue and/or lack of sleep, chronic pain, issues from your own childhood and challenges to your sense of self can all contribute to postnatal depression (PND).

Some women may also find that relationship troubles during their pregnancy, physical health problems following the birth, financial worries and a lack of support at home could trigger PND.

For men, the increased pressures of fatherhood and associated responsibility, financial pressures and change in lifestyle, as well as changes in relationships, combined with a lack of sleep and increased workload at home, can all affect their mental wellbeing.

If you are concerned that you or your partner may have PND, it’s best to seek help and talk about how you’re feeling — try your GP or health visitor, for instance. The recovery from PND is gradual but with help and support it can get better.

Postpartum psychosis

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

The main symptoms of puerperal psychosis are delusions, hallucinations, confused thoughts and a lack of self-awareness. 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.

Supporting each other

It may be difficult, upsetting and frustrating to live with someone who is feeling low or depressed. It is more helpful, however, to try to support them and understand what they’re going through rather than blame them or be judgemental.

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

Helping yourself feel better

  • Share your feelings with people you trust. It’s important to feel understood and supported. A sympathetic listener, who can listen to your feelings and worries without judging, can bring enormous relief. It could be a health visitor, a friend or a counsellor.
  • Talking to other mums and dads can be very reassuring. Meeting others in the same position will give you a chance to share skills and experiences, to realise you are not alone, and above all get some emotional and practical support.
  • Try and get help with the childcare and take some time for yourself, even an hour here and there can make a difference.
  • Take some exercise each day, such as a walk with the buggy or swimming: exercise has a positive effect on mood and sense of wellbeing.
  • Maintain a healthy diet; eating badly or skipping meals can make you feel tired and irritable, so try to eat simple and nutritious meals. There is some evidence that foods rich in Omega 3 oils (found in oily fish, seeds and nuts) can help with depression.
  • Accept help and support from your partner, family and friends. Try to share as many jobs around the house as possible. Allowing people to support you and your partner through this time will make things easier.

Give yourself time to adjust to parenthood. The next few weeks and months will be a learning curve with highs and lows. Take each day as it comes and do seek help and support if you feel you need it.

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.

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