Many new mothers may experience symptoms of irritability or low mood after giving birth; a period sometimes referred to as the 'baby blues'.
These symptoms occur frequently in approximately 30-80% of women but after a short period of time they may become less apparent and disappear. For some new mums, these feelings may be more persistent and they may develop a condition known as postnatal depression (PND), sometimes also called postpartum depression. Unlike the 'baby blues', postnatal depression does not go away quickly and new mothers are likely to need additional support.
How prevalent is postnatal depression?
Studies have shown that the prevalence of postnatal depression ranges between 9% and 21%.
What is Postnatal Depression?
The symptoms of postnatal depression are similar to the symptoms of depression. New mums may experience low mood, loss of interest, fatigue or low energy for most days over the course of two weeks. Additionally, they may experience other symptoms such as: self-critical thinking and rumination (increased worrying); reduced concentration and attention; reduced self-esteem and self-confidence; disturbed sleep and changes in appetite.
Some new mums may feel they are detached from their babies. Furthermore, some new mums experience repetitive thoughts about harming themselves and/or their babies. However, it is very rare for women to act on these thoughts.
Where and when to seek help?
It is important to seek help from your GP, health visitor and/or midwife if you think you have symptoms of postnatal depression. They will advise what the best treatment is for you. For any mum or family member concerned, it is never too late to seek out support and help from professionals. You can feel better even though the symptoms may have been there for a long time.
The help you need depends on how severe your symptoms are. PND can be helped by seeing your GP, increased support from family and friends and talking therapies. If your PND is severe, you may need care and treatment from a specialized mental health service.
The GP, health visitor and midwife want to support you with getting better and caring for your baby at home. This is why it is OK to talk about how you are feeling after having a baby.
When can it happen?
The onset can start anytime post-childbirth but most frequently it will occur between zero and two months after giving birth. However postnatal depression can also occur several months after giving birth.
What causes postnatal depression?
It is thought that postnatal depression may be caused by a combination of biological and psychosocial factors. Studies have shown that genetic and hormonal changes may play a role in the development of postnatal depression, although no clear associations have been observed. Likewise, psychosocial factors such as life stresses, lack of social support, poverty, and personal vulnerabilities may all play their part.
Having a history of affective problems (e.g. depression, bi-polar problems and/or anxiety) may increase the risk of developing a mental health problem after giving birth. There is some evidence indicating that almost a third of postnatal depression begins in pregnancy or pre-pregnancy.
It is important to inform your GP, health visitor and/or Midwife about any previous mental health problems to ensure they can best support you during and after pregnancy.
Other mental health problems post pregnancy
Post-partum (puerperal) psychosis
Another mental health problem which can occur after childbirth is postpartum psychosis or puerperal psychosis. This can start within hours, days or weeks after giving birth. Women may experience psychotic symptoms such as hearing or seeing things that are not there.
Other symptoms could be; believing things and being convinced of things which are not true and mood swings and/or particular high or low moods. It is very important to seek medical support if you experience any of these symptoms.