Postnatal depression can affect women in different ways. It can start at any point in the first year after giving birth and may develop suddenly or gradually.
Many women feel a bit down, tearful or anxious in the first week after giving birth. This is often called the "baby blues" and is so common that it's considered normal. The "baby blues" don't last for more than 2 weeks after giving birth.
If your symptoms last longer or start later, you could have postnatal depression.
Common symptoms of postnatal depression
The main symptoms include:
- a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
- loss of interest in the world around you and no longer enjoying things that used to give you pleasure
- lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
- trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day
- feeling that you're unable to look after your baby
- problems concentrating and making decisions
- loss of appetite or an increased appetite (comfort eating)
- feeling agitated, irritable or very apathetic (you "can't be bothered")
- feelings of guilt, hopelessness and self-blame
- difficulty bonding with your baby with a feeling of indifference and no sense of enjoyment in their company
- frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your baby; these can be scary, but they're very rarely acted upon
- thinking about suicide and self-harm
These symptoms can affect your day-to-day life and your relationships with your baby, your family and friends.
If you think you may be depressed, talk to your GP or health visitor as soon as possible so you can access the support you need.
Don't struggle on alone and hope the problem will go away. It can continue for months or years if nothing is done.
Fathers and partners can also become depressed after the birth of a baby. You should seek help if this is affecting you.
Read more about treating postnatal depression.
Spotting the signs in others
Postnatal depression can develop gradually and it can be hard to recognise. Some parents may avoid talking to family and friends about how they're feeling because they worry they'll be judged for not coping or not appearing happy.
Signs for partners, family and friends to look out for in new parents include:
- frequently crying for no obvious reason
- having difficulty bonding with their baby, looking after them only as a duty and not wanting to play with them
- withdrawing from contact with other people
- speaking negatively all the time and claiming that they're hopeless
- neglecting themselves, such as not washing or changing their clothes
- losing all sense of time, such as being unaware whether 10 minutes or 2 hours have passed
- losing their sense of humour
- constantly worrying that something is wrong with their baby, regardless of reassurance
If you think someone you know is depressed, encourage them to talk about their feelings to you, a friend, their GP or their health visitor.
As well as postnatal depression, a number of other mental health conditions can also develop after giving birth.
- anxiety disorders – including generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder
- obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – unwanted and unpleasant thoughts, images or urges that repeatedly enter a person's mind, causing them anxiety and leading to repetitive behaviours
- postpartum psychosis – a combination of bipolar-like symptoms (feeling depressed one moment and very happy the next), delusions (believing things that are obviously untrue and illogical) and hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that aren't really there)
Speak to your GP or health visitor if you think you may have developed an anxiety disorder or OCD.
Contact your GP immediately if you think that you or someone you know may have postpartum psychosis, as it's a medical emergency. If this isn't possible, call NHS 111 or your local out-of-hours service.
If you think there's a danger of immediate harm, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.