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Causes of postnatal depression

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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The cause of postnatal depression is not completely clear. Most experts think postnatal depression is the result of a combination of things.

These may include:

  • depression during pregnancy
  • a difficult delivery
  • lack of support at home
  • relationship worries
  • money problems
  • having no close family or friends around you
  • physical health problems following the birth, such as urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control), or persistent pain from an  episiotomy scar or a forceps delivery

Even if your life is free of these problems and you had a straightforward pregnancy or labour, simply having a baby can be a stressful and life-changing event that can trigger depression.

People often assume they will naturally adapt to parenthood overnight. But it can take months before people begin to cope with the pressures of being a new parent. This is true even for those who already have children.

In addition, some babies are more difficult and demanding than others, and don't settle so easily. This can lead to exhaustion and stress.

Who's at risk

Factors that can increase your risk of having postnatal depression include:

  • a family history of depression or postnatal depression (genetics appears to play a role in both of these conditions but exactly how is still unclear)
  • having experienced depression or postnatal depression previously, or other mood disorders such as bipolar disorder

The role of hormones

Huge changes in hormone levels during and after pregnancy were once believed to be the sole cause of postnatal depression. This is no longer thought to be the case, although hormonal changes may still play a part.

One theory is that some women are more sensitive to the effects of falling hormone levels after they have given birth. All mothers will experience hormonal changes but only some mothers will be affected emotionally.

It's possible that this, as well as the stress of looking after a baby or money problems, may trigger the depression.

Depression is when you have feelings of extreme sadness, despair or inadequacy that last for a long time.
Incontinence is when you pass urine (urinal incontinence), stools or gas (faecal incontinence), because you cannot control your bladder or bowels.
Medical Review: April 17, 2012

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