Postnatal depression, sometimes called postpartum depression, is more common than you may think. Around 1 in 7 women are thought to suffer from it, but as many don't seek help, the number may be much higher. Find out the facts about postnatal depression and where to find help if you think you're affected by it.
What is postnatal depression?
After having a baby many women go through a short period of time where they suffer from tearfulness, irritability and mood swings. This is commonly known as the 'baby blues'. However, some mums develop a deeper and more serious type of depression which is postnatal depression (PND). It can start suddenly or come on slowly and can be mild or severe.
How do I know if I've got baby blues or PND?
Newborns are exhausting. They need feeding regularly and so your sleeping routine will be disrupted, leaving you feeling tired, irritable and tearful. You may also feel overwhelmed and anxious about being responsible for a new baby. Your body also goes through huge hormonal changes after giving birth which can contribute to you feeling upset. These feelings are usually called the 'baby blues' and will normally pass after the first few weeks. Many women feel the worst on day 4 or 5 after having given birth. Postnatal depression most commonly starts 4-6 weeks after childbirth, when symptoms of the baby blues will have settled down. MIND explains that one indication that you might have PND is if you find it hard to sleep even when you're tired and you have the chance to lie down. APNI, the Association for Post-Natal Illness, has a useful leaflet highlighting the differences between Baby Blues and PND.
What are the signs of postnatal depression?
Remember that you may only have one of these symptoms, but you may also have many. Very few people will suffer from them all.
- An inability to concentrate
- Feelings of anxiety
- Extreme irritability with others and yourself
- Sleep problems, you're either sleeping too much or too little
- Eating problems, lack of appetite or compulsive eating
- Feeling tired all the time
- Inability to enjoy anything
- Feelings of guilt
- Feeling indifferent to your baby
- Constant sadness, crying more than usual or for no apparent reason
- Agoraphobia, when you're scared to leave the house or be in social situations
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This involves symptoms such as constantly checking switches or washing hands.
- Feeling pessimistic and bleak about the future
- Finding it difficult to concentrate and make decisions
- Having thoughts about death
OK, I think I have postnatal depression, what now?
The first thing to do is tell someone. Get in touch with your health visitor, or your GP. They will ask you some questions using a questionnaire called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EDP). If they think you are suffering from postnatal depression, they will discuss with you the treatments.
What treatments are available for postnatal depression?
Your GP may discuss with you the possibility of taking anti-depressants. These are tablets which can help fix a chemical imbalance in the brain and many women find that they are very helpful. They will explain the side effects and will choose medication based on whether or not you are breastfeeding as some are safer for babies than others. You will take them for a period of time, usually 6 months, as identified by your GP. They may take time to work, or you may have to change types before you find one which works for you. Your GP will also help you come off them when you feel ready. The most important thing is to keep your GP informed of how you're feeling. If you're prescribed anti-depressants but you don't feel they're working, go back and discuss it with your GP. It doesn't mean that NO anti-depressant will work for you.
Counselling, which involves talking to a medical professional trained in postnatal depression treatment can also be helpful. Many women also join support groups so they can share their experiences with other women also suffering from postnatal depression and discuss how each have coped. These groups often provide a helpful support network and can help make PND sufferers feel less isolated.
Will they take away my baby?
In 2012 there were 729,674 live births in the UK. If 1 in 7 mums have postnatal depression, doing some crude sums, 104,239 babies born in 2012 had mums with postnatal depression. That would be an awful lot of babies taken away from their parents. Babies are only removed from their parents in very extreme cases. Even if you have thoughts of harming your baby, health professionals will work with you to make sure that have the right care and medication so that you feel better and are able to cope with taking care of your baby. You may stay in a mother and baby unit in a hospital while you get better so that you have help caring for your child and your progress can be monitored. Many women will not need this level of care, however.
I feel ashamed and embarrassed
Don't. Postnatal depression is more common than you think. As you do your shopping in a supermarket, count the women you see. Every seventh woman has had postnatal depression. And as many women don't seek help, that figure is likely to be much higher. You are not alone. And the more women you share your experience with, you may be surprised how many recognise your symptoms and confess to having felt exactly the same way.
Where can I find help?
You can find a support group local to you through Pandas Foundation (Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support).
APNI, Association for Post-Natal Illness, provides a telephone helpline between 10am and 2pm. Call 020 7386 0868.
If you're out of the UK, contact PSI, Postpartum Support International.
Ask your GP for information on local groups.
Ask your health visitor for information on local groups.
On Twitter, search the hashtags #PNDChat. #PNDHour takes place on Wednesdays at 8pm.
Search for 'postnatal depression' on Facebook. There are support groups online, like these: Post-Natal Depression, PostNatalDepressionSupport or search for a group, like this one in Cornwall.
Look for blogs of women who talk about their postnatal depression. Try: PNDandMe or ThePumpingMama.
Get help from one of the following organisations: APNI, Bluebellcare, thesmilegroup, mind, pandasfoundation.
If you have already have children and are struggling to explain postnatal depression to them, this book by mum-of-three Jen Faulkner, who suffered postnatal depression around the births of all her children, may help. It's called A Monster Ate My Mum and it's a beautifully-illustrated poem about a boy whose mum isn't the same as she used to be. It's £5.99 for the paperback and currently (March 19 2014) free to download.
Where to next?
PND Hour - the Twitter lifeline
The Edinburgh test - how to diagnose your PND