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Postnatal depression

What is postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression (PND) is depression experienced by some women several weeks or months after having a baby.

Symptoms of postnatal depression include a low mood, a feeling of not being able to cope, and sleep problems.

It is possible to have postnatal depression and not be aware of it.

Around 1 in 7 women experience some depression in the three months after having a baby.

Mood changes are common after giving birth, but postnatal depression is more serious than these 'baby blues'.

Symptoms of postnatal depression

Symptoms of postnatal depression are similar to what happens normally following childbirth. They include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Appetite changes
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Decreased libido
  • Frequent mood changes

However, these are also accompanied by the symptoms of major depression:

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of pleasure
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

Causes of postnatal depression

A number of factors can increase the risk of postnatal depression, including:

  • A history of depression during pregnancy
  • Age at time of pregnancy - the younger you are, the higher the risk
  • Ambivalence about the pregnancy
  • Children - the more you have, the more likely you are to be depressed in a subsequent pregnancy
  • Having a history of depression or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
  • Limited social support
  • Living alone
  • Marital conflict

Who is at risk of postnatal depression?

Most new mothers experience the ‘baby blues’ after delivery. About one out of every 10 of these women will develop a more severe and longer-lasting depression after delivery. One in 1,000 women develops a more serious condition called postpartum psychosis.

Do anxiety disorders increase with postnatal depression?

Symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder may appear or worsen in the postnatal period. The obsessions are usually related to concerns about the baby or harming the baby. Panic disorder may also occur. Both conditions often coexist with depression.

Diagnosing postnatal depression

Postnatal depression is diagnosed based on a woman's symptoms.

Other tests may be arranged to help rule out other conditions that could be causing the symptoms.

What do to if you think you have postnatal depression

The most important thing to do is admit that you are struggling and need a little help. PND is not uncommon and every GP, midwife, or other health professional will have seen other mums before you with similar problems.

Early detection and treatment make a big difference to postnatal depression and helps to prevent women suffering unnecessarily. Health professionals are there to help you and will not judge you, or label you as a bad mother.

It's important that you don't bottle your feelings up. Talk to your partner, friends, parents, or a health professional about what you are feeling. Accept any offers of help and don't feel bad about needing them. Having a baby is probably the most life-changing experience you'll ever go through, and it's natural to need the input of others to make things easier.

The severity of PND varies. Most mothers with PND cope really well, are great mothers and with help, support and sometimes treatment are soon enjoying life and their beautiful baby.

Ensure you get as much sleep as you can. Take up offers of babysitting so that you can get some well-deserved rest, and make sure you get some "me" time so you can feel like a woman again, not just a mother. Don't worry about spending a little time away from your baby - a healthy, happier, more-relaxed you will make for a more content baby.

Also, make sure that you're eating a balanced diet to give yourself more energy to look after your baby, and try to take some regular gentle exercise such as a stroll with the pram.

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