Postnatal depression

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

It’s normal for women to feel a bit low after giving birth, but if the symptoms are persistent and have a big impact on daily life, it could be postnatal depression. Find out more about the signs and what support is available.

What is postnatal depression?

Having a baby is a time of great excitement, but it can bring a range of different emotions as you adjust to the demands of your new baby.

It’s very common to experience ‘baby blues’ in the first week or two after giving birth. You might feel a bit low and anxious, be tearful and have mood swings, but this usually lifts after a couple of weeks.

If these symptoms continue, you could have postnatal depression, also called postpartum depression. This often starts after childbirth, but you can experience it anytime in the first year after giving birth.

Signs of postnatal depression

If you experience these symptoms any time in the first year after having your baby, it could be a sign of postnatal depression:

  • Feeling flat, low or sad most of the time

  • Losing enthusiasm for things you usually enjoy

  • Lethargy, lack of energy and tiredness

  • Sleeping problems

  • Finding it hard to bond with your baby

  • Feeling isolated and withdrawing from others

  • Lacking self-confidence

  • Having scary thoughts, like harming your baby

  • Feeling suicidal or like you can’t cope with life

If you’re worried someone has postnatal depression

Most women feel extremely tired and preoccupied after giving birth, so it can be difficult for new mothers to recognise signs of postnatal depression in themselves.

If you’re concerned that someone you know may have postnatal depression, ask yourself if they are:

  • Crying a lot for no real reason

  • Looking after their baby but not enjoying playing and ‘being’ with them

  • Neglecting their personal hygiene and appearance

  • Down on themselves and their ability to parent

  • Overly worrying about their baby

  • Withdrawn and disinterested in socialising

Postnatal depression can be a sensitive subject, but if you notice these signs in someone else, it’s essential to talk to them about your concerns. Be there to offer support and reassurance and encourage them to speak to a professional as soon as possible.

What causes postnatal depression?

The exact causes of postnatal depression are not clear, but experts believe that the following factors can play a part:

  • A history of mental health problems, like depression

  • A lack of support from family and friends or a partner

  • Recently experiencing something stressful, like a bereavement

Diagnosing postnatal depression

If you’ve got a history of mental health issues, or you think that some of the factors above may affect you, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your doctor or midwife during your pregnancy. That way, they can make sure that the right support is in place early on and monitor any treatment or help that you may need.

Shortly after giving birth, you’ll have some appointments with your health visitor. As well as checking up on your baby’s health, they’ll be keen to find out how you’re coping. They are trained to look for the signs of postnatal depression and will be able to offer you help and support if they think you need it.

It’s also possible for fathers and partners to experience postnatal depression. If you’re worried about the mental health of your partner, talk to your doctor or health visitor about what help is available for them.

Treatment for postnatal depression

Postnatal depression affects 1 in 10 women within a year of giving birth. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent or that you don’t love your baby, but it’s important to tell someone as soon as possible.

As long as you get the right support and treatment, you should make a full recovery from postnatal depression.

Types of treatment include one or a combination of the following:

  • Talking therapy – short-term courses, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), are often recommended.

  • Medication – for more severe depression, antidepressants can be helpful. If you’re breastfeeding, your doctor will recommend an antidepressant that is safe for you to take.

  • Support services – many people find it useful to talk to others who understand how they feel. This may be a local support group or a helpline service run by a charity. Talk to your doctor about what’s available in your area.

  • Self-care – It can be hard when you suddenly have a baby taking up most of your time, but recognising your own needs is an important part of your recovery. Take time for a chat with a friend, a long bath or to read a book – whatever gives you some enjoyment. It can also help to make a mood diary so you can spot any patterns or things that can trigger certain emotions.

Read more on postnatal depression.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi