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What is Postnatal Depression?

Welcoming a new bundle of joy into the world is the happiest time of your life, right? Well, yes and no… Despite being thrilled about the new addition to the family, for many people the period of time after having a baby can be very challenging, and that pressure to feel happy and excited can be a lot to handle.

Postnatal depression is a type of depression affecting parents which can start any time in the first year after a baby is born, but usually begins between 2 and 8 weeks after birth. This is a common problem, affecting 10% of mothers within a year of giving birth. What people don’t always realise is that postnatal depression can affect fathers and partners too, and studies show that 1 in 10 new fathers feels depressed.

It is very normal within the first week or so after giving birth for women to feel tearful, anxious and low. This is called the “Baby Blues” and it is very common, and thought to be due to the sudden hormonal and chemical changes in the body after childbirth. However, this feeling passes within a few days and doesn’t usually persist past two weeks after the baby is born.

If these feelings last longer, or start after two weeks after the baby is born, it could be signs of postnatal depression. Sometimes people do not notice that they, or someone they know, are suffering, because it can develop gradually, and often the signs (like feeling tired, irritable or low in energy) are put down to the change in sleep or lifestyle after having a baby. As well as this, new parents often feel an intense pressure that they should be over the moon with happiness, or worry that if they speak up about feeling low that they will be considered bad or even incapable parents.

Signs of postnatal depression include:

  • Feeling persistently low or sad

  • Sleeping difficulties

  • Feeling tired or low in energy

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Struggling to bond with the baby, or even having scary thoughts about harming them

  • Disengaging contact with other people

  • Loss of interest in activities

And why do some people get it and others don’t? The answer is not fully understood, but there are certain things which make it more likely for you to develop postnatal depression. A history of mental health problems both before and during pregnancy, having the “baby blues”, not being near to family or friends, a strained relationship with your partner, stressful life events and a background of trauma are all linked with increased rates of postnatal depression. However, having a baby is a huge, life-changing event and anybody adapting to the new life as a parent can find that depression is trigged.

Can anything be done to help? A strong network of support and a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet, regular exercise and getting sleep (where possible!) can help. Many women find that meeting other pregnant women or new parents during pregnancy can be helpful, as they “get” what it’s like. Support is available through midwives, health visitors and doctors, and there are specialist teams that support women with mental health during and after pregnancy. Treatments can include self-help, talking therapies and medication when needed.

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