Pre and postnatal depression

What is pre and postnatal depression (PND)?

Postnatal depression can affect between 10-15% of women having a baby. It is a depressive illness with symptoms similar to those in depression including low mood and other symptoms lasting at least two weeks. Depending on the severity of post natal depression, you may struggle to look after yourself and your baby and you may find simple tasks difficult to manage.

It is not the ‘baby blues’ which usually starts three to four days after birth and can make you have mood swings, feel irritable and low and anxious at times. The baby blues usually stops by the time your baby is around 10 days old and does not require treatment; however, if it continues for more than two weeks, tell your health visitor or GP and they can check whether you have postnatal depression.

Symptoms of pre and postnatal depression (PND)

The symptoms of PND are similar to those of depression and can include some or all of the following:

  • Feeling low or despondent
  • Feeling irritable, angry and tearful
  • Feeling tired and lethargic
  • Feeling anxious – often about things that don’t normally bother you
  • A decrease or increase in appetite
  • Feeling isolated
  • Finding simple tasks difficult to manage
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping – getting to sleep and waking early
  • Obsessive concern and fears about your baby’s health

Who does postnatal depression affect?

Pre or postnatal depression can happen to anyone and it is not your fault. PND can affect between 10-15% of women having a baby. This may be a first episode or it can reoccur in women who have had depression before.

What causes postnatal depression?

Women can experience many changes in their feelings and moods in pregnancy. For most women it is a time of good mental health although for others the experience of giving birth can cause feelings of disappointment, anger or even post-traumatic stress disorder, especially if labour was difficult or complicated, or if emergency treatment was necessary.

Adjusting to a change in circumstances when giving up work (even when on maternity leave) combined with living on a reduced income, the loss of contact with colleagues and the freedom to come and go as you please, can contribute to feeling isolated and lonely.

The sudden responsibility and demands of caring for a baby 24-hours a day can be overwhelming. In today’s society many mothers often lack the support of extended families and struggling on their own can lead to feelings of anxiety or guilt at not being able to cope.

It is very important to seek specialist advice if you are pregnant and have had schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder, prior depression, an eating disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Getting help and treatment for PND

It is never too late to seek help and both medication and talking therapies can be used for treatment. A specialist service enables a clear plan to be put in place for the whole of pregnancy and early postnatal period. Medication can be taken safely in pregnancy and breastfeeding, but it is important to see a specialist who can advise on the best choice. It is important not to suddenly stop medication without telling anyone if you become pregnant.

Talking therapies, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can provide a safe space to talk to someone non-judgmental about your feelings. CBT aims to help you see how your ways of thinking and behaving can contribute to feelings of depression and to learn ways to change these thoughts which, in turn, should have a positive effect on your symptoms.

If you need help with this issue you can call us in complete confidence on 0845 601 4134.

How you can help yourself

There are a number of ways that you can help yourself maintain good mental health. These include getting good quality sleep, eating well, stopping smoking and not drinking alcohol.  Finding time to take care of yourself is often easier said than done with a baby, but taking time to do things that you enjoy such as exercise and keeping in touch with friends is also important.


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