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Postnatal depression (PND) is a depressive illness which affects between 10 to 15 in every 100 women having a baby. Symptoms are similar to depression. This includes low mood and other symptoms lasting at least two weeks. Depending on the severity, women may find it difficult to look after themselves and the baby and they may find simple tasks difficult to do.

Postnatal depression often starts within one or two months of giving birth. However, it could start several months after giving birth. Approximately a third of women with PND have symptoms that started in pregnancy and continue after birth.

When it comes to the symptoms of PND you may have some or all of the following symptoms: depression, irritability, tiredness, sleeplessness, appetite changes, inability to enjoy anything, loss of interest in sex, negative and guilty thoughts, anxiety, avoiding other people, hopelessness, thoughts of suicide, self-harm, and signs of psychosis.

In many cases, depressed mothers worry that they might harm their baby. For various reasons some mothers may feel like harming their baby, though most mothers never act on this. Women worry that, if they open up about these feelings, their baby might be taken away from them. This is, however, not the case. Your general practitioner will want you to get better and access the necessary support for your baby at home.

There are two other types of postnatal depression, namely ‘Baby Blues’ and post-partum psychosis. ‘Baby blues’ is accompanied by feelings of weepiness, anxiety, and irritability. It affects about 85% of all mothers and is generally considered a normal reaction to childbirth. It is usually short-lived, starting a couple of days after birth and easing off by the end of the second week. Post-partum psychosis, on the other hand, is the most severe variation of the postnatal disorders. It is rare and affects about 1-2 births per 1 000. It occurs within the first two weeks after childbirth and progresses quickly from irritability to irrationality.

There are various possible causes of PND. There is no single reason, but a number of different stresses may add up to cause it. You are more likely to have PND if you have:

  • Previous mental health problems, including depression
  • Depression or anxiety during pregnancy
  • Poor support from partner, family or friends ? or marital difficulties.

There could be a physical cause for your depression, such as an underactive thyroid or low levels of vitamin B12, and these can be easily treated. PND can start for no obvious reason, without any of these causes, and having these problems does not mean that you definitely have PND.

When it comes to treating PND, you could either be prescribed medication or be advised to attend therapy. There are also self-help methods you could use to minimise the effects of PND. Don’t be frightened by your diagnosis and do tell someone how you feel. Take every opportunity to get some sleep or rest during the day or night. Try to eat regularly, attend support groups or do some exercise. If these self-help tips do not help you feel better, speak to your general practitioner about possibly taking an antidepressant. (Breastfeeding is usually possible while on antidepressants.)

Furthermore, it is advisable for you to have a good support structure. This could be in the form of family and friends or even speaking to a trained professional. Understand that there are various resources available to help women who are living with postnatal depression. You do not have to walk this road alone.


Author: Dr Lucinda Green
Title: Postnatal depression
Year: November 2018

[ Posted 23 September 2019 ]

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