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Postnatal depression (also known as postpartum depression) is part of postpartum mood disorders, which range in severity from the mild baby blues to postnatal psychosis which normally requires hospitalisation (Mother and Baby Units). Among these disorders is postnatal depression. Postnatal depression can develop at any time during the first year after birth, and you may have been depressed during pregnancy (pre/antenatal depression). Each individual is different, and may experience different symptoms.
It is very rare for there to be a single cause in any depressive episode, and several factors are normally the cause. The alteration in hormones after child birth has previously been blamed as the cause of postnatal depression. However, in recent years researchers haven’t found any difference in hormones between women which have postnatal depression and those who don’t. It is more likely a result of the combination of life changing events such as childbirth, any previous situations or events. Looking after a new born baby can be demanding, some cry more than others, which may mean they are more difficult to look after.
Giving birth can be disappointing or traumatising, and depending on your own experience it may have made you feel out of control and frightened. Complications during labor can cause the equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder, but this is usually dismissed as many people consider the birth of a baby to be an adequate compensation. It can be a factor that if it was an emergency to deliver your baby such as a caesarian section, however this has yet to be proven and more research is needed.
You may have found you are no longer working, have less of a social life, and have a reduced income compared to pregnancy or even before. This change in circumstances can cause added pressure and may be one of the factors to cause postnatal depression.
It is thought that postnatal depression can run in families, however it is not yet fully understood whether it is a genetic factor or the social factors surrounding your childhood which may mean there is a higher risk for being diagnosed with postnatal depression.
Some studies have shown that you may be more likely to have postnatal depression if you were trying to conceive for a long time; if the partner or close relative offering you support has depression; if you had depression during pregnancy (pre/antenatal depression); previously suffered the ‘baby blues’; your baby being premature or sick, not receiving much support and help from family and friends; the pregnancy wasn’t planned, you’re not breastfeeding, or having had a stressful event in your life recently e.g. a bereavement.
Awareness of postnatal depression is increasing, so G.P.s, Midwives and Health Visitors should be asking you specific questions regarding your mood during pregnancy and after labor to detect signs of possible postnatal depression.
Having a baby is a life changing event, and can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Depression is normally triggered by a life changing event such as moving house, death of a relative or breakdown in relationship.
Many women often feel ashamed of their symptoms, and delay seeking help. It is vitally important to seek getting help, as if left untreated, postnatal depression can last for months and in the more rare cases go on for years. G.P.s are made aware of the symptoms of postnatal depression and are there to guide and help you decide the best treatment for you.
Your G.P. may prescribe you anti-depressants which are there to improve a chemical imbalance in the brain which can cause depression. The course of taking anti-depressants may last months and you will also be advised to continue taking the medication after your symptoms have stopped, this is to help prevent the depression returning. If you are breastfeeding your baby, speak to your G.P. about the most suitable anti-depressant for you, and they will be able to advise you what is best. Don’t worry you can continue breastfeeding and taking medication if you wish.
You may be offered counselling, and this also might be available at your G.P practice. Other forms of psychological treatments may include: cognitive behavioral therapy and talking treatments which focuses on your past and present relationships.
You may be referred to your mental health team; the teams are made up of specialists, and can offer intensive support in the home and guide you through your recovery. If you feel you may harm yourself or your baby, you might be referred to hospital, in a specialist Mother and Baby Unit where the baby can sleep with you or in a separate nursery until you feel well enough.
There are things which you can do yourself which will help reduce the symptoms of postnatal depression please visit our Self Help Guide for more information.
Your family and friend can play a big part in helping your recovery. For them to be able to help it is important you are honest with your friends and family about how you are feeling, and don’t bottle up your emotions as this can cause tension. Allow them to carry out small tasks for you, such as house work, taking your baby for a walk, or simply looking after your baby for one hour every other day to allow you to do something you want. It is important you allow yourself to have some ‘me time’.
Self-help groups can offer you good advice and support on how to cope with postnatal depression as well as comfort to know that other mums are feeling the same as you, hearing other individuals experiences of postnatal depression can be a huge benefit, as you will be able to discuss techniques on how to cope, and have an understanding of each other’s feelings. Pandas Support Groups offers just that, in a non-judgmental safe environment.
The most important support aid you can have is being able to talk to someone and be honest about your feeling and emotions. Ensure you write down on a piece of paper or a notebook the numbers of people you can call when you are feeling your worst, and make sure the list is readily available, so if you feel you are becoming aggressive, upset, angry or anxious you can call someone and no that you are not on your own. You can add Pandas Help Line on your list 0843 28 98 401, and we will always be here to listen.
Find out more by reading our Success Stories.
Bertrum, Lynn (2008.) Supporting Postnatal Women into Motherhood. A guide to therapeutic group work for health professionals. Oxford: Radcliffe press.
Green J.M. (1998) Postnatal depression or perinatal dysphoria? Findings from a longitudinal community based study using Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology. 16, (1).
“Postnatal depression effect my whole family and put a lot of strain on my marriage, I don't know what I would have done with out Pandas there to support me”