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Postnatal Depression: Symptoms, Treatment and Support

More serious than post-baby blues, postpartum or postnatal depression (PND) is a common condition, affecting both new mums and dads.

After the emotional rollercoaster that pregnancy can be, it’s perhaps no wonder some parents struggle after birth.

If you're experiencing persistant problems, you'll need medical attention - fortunately there’s plenty of help out there.

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What is Postnatal Depression?

Postnatal depression is a mental disorder that can affect new parents.

The symptoms are similar to those of a depression but are characterised by the association with giving birth, occurring within one year of the arrival of a baby.

This condition can be really distressing and stop you from leading a normal life.

Signs of PND may include a lack of energy, frightening thoughts and extreme sadness, among others


Post-baby Blues or Postnatal Depression?

After giving birth, it’s perfectly normal to experience fatigue, anxiousness and even poor appetite.

These symptoms are the result of chemical and hormonal changes happening in your body, such as the release of prolactin and oxytocin when you start breastfeeding and usually go by the name of ‘post-baby blues’.

Whether your blues are just temporary or more persistent could be an indicator of something more serious.

In fact, post-baby blues tend to last only a couple of weeks, while post-natal depression extends over a longer period of time.

The seriousness of your symptoms is also a factor to take into consideration when determining if your complaint requires a visit to your GP.


What Causes Postnatal Depression?

Having a baby changes your life, so you’ll need time to adjust.

Sleepless nights and the energy that 24-hour care of a little one takes can get to the best of us.

After pregnancy, a new-mum’s hormones are all over the place too. Progesterone levels during pregnancy are 50 times non-pregnant levels, for example.

The exact causes behind postnatal depression aren’t yet completely clear.

According to the NHS, the following factors have been linked to the mental-health condition:

  • a history of mental-health issues, namely depression

  • suffering from post-baby blues

  • recent experience of a stressful event

  • poor relationship with partner

  • lack of support from family and friends


  • What Are the Symptoms of Postnatal Depression?

    If the post baby blues don’t go away after a couple of weeks, look out for symptoms of postnatal depression:

  • feeling inadequate or having low self esteem
  • being constantly weepy or lethargic
  • feeling no enjoyment in life
  • trouble sleeping
  • feelings of guilt
  • panic attacks
  • According to the NHS, the signs of postpartum depression develop gradually, which explains why so many people don’t realise they’re suffering from it.

    It’s therefore important to take notice of any changes you experience in your mental health after giving birth.


    How Common Is Postnatal Depression?

    During a time when everyone may expect you to be happier than ever, it’s actually quite common to feel down – you’re certainly not alone.

    Postnatal depression is one of the most recurrent complications arising from giving birth.

    An academic article published in 2017 on PND has shown the prevalence of the condition to be higher than previously thought, highlighting a lack of accurate figures.

    Postpartum depression is supposed to affect about one in ten women, according to the NHS.

    Milder than PND, baby blues are experienced by a larger segment of new mums, averaging between 30-80%, accounts the Mental Health Foundation.

    It’s been scientifically acknowledged that fathers are also at risk of suffering from depression.

    A new study (2017) from Sweden found that 27% of inquired men showed symptoms that scored above-mild levels of depression, out of a sample of 447.

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    What Is The Treatment for Postnatal Depression?

    If you believe you have postnatal depression, it’s best to seek advice from your GP, who will be able to recommend an appropriate specialist treatment.

    Treatment for postpartum depression may vary according to the symptoms you’re experiencing, but generally falls into one of the three following categories:

  • Therapy:
  • Usually the first type of treatment to be recommended, therapy can take many different shapes and forms, from talking to your therapist about your problems to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

    Guided self-help may also be recommended, which could involve doing an online course or doing some reading.

  • Medication:
  • Anti-depressants can be prescribed if you’re experiencing severe symptoms and if other treatments were not successful.

    Make sure to tell your doctor if you need a breastfeeding-safe option.

  • Self-help:
  • There are things you could try which may help you get better, including following a healthy diet and exercising on a regular basis.


    How Can I Help Myself?

    If you are struggling with postnatal depression, there are a few strategies you can incorporate into your routine to help you cope and begin your journey to recovery, in addition to consulting your GP. The following are recommended:

  • Postnatal depression help begins at home, so talk to your partner, family and friends about what you're experiencing
  • Don’t try to be a super-parent and allow other people to help you
  • Make time for fun activities and things that make you happy
  • Make sure to get enough rest and follow regular sleeping habits
  • Don’t drink alcohol or take drugs as these can make you feel worse
  • Exercise regularly – this releases endorphins which boost your mood
  • Eat healthily
  • Another thing you could try is joining a class or a group to meet other mums and dads – they may know exactly what you’re going through and be able to share some helpful advice.


    Myths About Postnatal Depression

    It’s important that new parents understand that postnatal depression is both common and serious, and that they should never be afraid to ask for help.

    PND has often been overlooked, with many myths and misconceptions surrounding the condition, including:

  • “Postnatal depression isn’t really depression” – postnatal depression IS a form of depression and can be just as serious as any other type of depression
  • “Postnatal depression can go unaided” – postnatal depression is a persistent condition that requires medical attention to be treated; it’s a lot worse than baby blues
  • “Postnatal depression is all about hormones” – many factors can cause PND, not just hormones; these may include lack of support from family and a history of mental problems.

  • Support and Information for Postnatal Depression

    If you’re worried that you’re experiencing postnatal depression, don’t suffer in silence, let your health advisor or GP know how you’ve been feeling. They’ll be able to help:

    You may also want to contact the following institutions for additional support:

    APNI: a charity dedicated to offer support specifically to people suffering from post-natal depression, including a telephone and online helpline

    MIND: a charity focused on helping people experiencing mental-health problems. Information and advice on postnatal depression can be found here.


    Read More:

  • Postnatal Exercises
  • Postnatal Nutrition
  • Postnatal Contraception

  • Last reviewed: September 2019


    References:

    Postnatal Depression, Bupa, [Accessed September 2019]

    Postnatal Depression, NHS, December 2018

    Feeling Depressed After Childbirth, NHS, August 2018

    New Dads Also at Risk for Postpartum Depression, Science Daily, March 2019

    Postnatal Depression Treatment, NHS, December 2018