Postnatal depression: Symptoms and signs of postnatal depression

Maternal suicide is the leading cause of death in women one year post pregnancy. There is clear opportunity to improve mental health among women both during and after pregnancy. Here we explain postnatal depression, how to prevent it and how to seek help if you're suffering.

What is postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression, sometimes called postpartum depression, is a common condition that many women suffer with shortly after giving birth.

Around 1 in 10 women are thought to experience postnatal depression, but as many don’t seek help, the number may be much higher and sometimes results in maternal suicide.

According to a study carried out by Mothers and Babies in 2018, ‘maternal suicide is the fifth most common cause of  a women’s deaths during pregnancy and its immediate aftermath, as well as the leading cause of death over the year post pregnancy’.

Broadly speaking postnatal depression involves having negative thoughts and feelings towards motherhood and your baby and feeling overly emotional and anxious for extended periods of time after you have given birth.

It’s really important to seek help, as though being over emotional in the first few weeks after giving birth is normal, if you continue to feel down you could have postnatal depression which can last for a lot longer.

Signs of postnatal depression

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According to a 2017 study by parenting charity NCT, mental health issues among new mothers are going undetected due to short post-natal checkups.  It’s important that you recognise your feelings, and seek help if you are in need.

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’. Eight out of 10 women experience the baby blues, which can start a few days after the baby is born and normally stops by the end of the first week. It can leave a new mum feeling anxious, have trouble breastfeeding, tearful, constantly worried about your baby’s welfare and completely overwhelmed with the responsibility of motherhood.

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.

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.

Often the lines between baby blues and PND get blurred and women don’t realise they need help. Postnatal depression can also emerge up to when your baby is about one year old.

Symptoms of postnatal depression

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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

Postnatal depression test

postnatal depression

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When you speak to a medical professional about your concerns over having postnatal depression they may ask you to take The Edinburgh Test.

The Edinburgh Test is a simple, multiple-choice questionnaire to help see if someone is suffering with postnatal depression. The test asks questions about the last 7 days – your mood, your nerves, your sense of humour, your happiness and whether or not you’ve considered hurting yourself.

Each of the 10 questions has 4 multiple choice options as answers, and depending on how you answer, you are given a score. The greater your score, the more likely you to be suffering from PND and the more severe it is.

To someone who’s never had a baby or suffered with postnatal depression, it may seem odd that diagnosis requires such a simple test. Surely you know if you’re suffering with depression? Unfortunately it’s not that simple. When you’re in the midst of the chaos that often surrounds the arrival of a new baby, it can be difficult to know your own mind. This is when The Edinburgh Test is really useful.

It’s strongly advised that your GP or health visitor gives you the test. This is because they are trained to make a diagnosis based on the answers you give AND by talking to you about how you feel. This is why we’ve taken the decision not to publish the exact questions and answers here. If you think you might be suffering with postnatal depression, self-diagnosis is not the way forward. You need to go and see a professional who knows what they’re doing and how to help you.

Dealing with postnatal depression:

The NHS states the 3 main types of treatments for postnatal depression are self-help strategies, therapy and medication.

There are a range of therapy treatments available to women with postnatal depression, such as guided self-help, cognitive behavioural therapy and interpersonal therapy, and most mothers make a full recovery.

Book an appointment to talk with your GP about the pros and cons of different treatments so you can decide together what’s best for you.

If you would like to read about some real experiences of postnatal depression, take a look at our collection of true stories from mums that have suffered from PND.

Postnatal depression helpline:

There are a number of national support groups that you can contact if you’re looking for advice or just feel like you’d like a chat. You can also use these groups to attend events with other parents affected by postnatal depression.

The support groups include:

If you’re looking for a way to reach out to other mums suffering from PND, join in #PNDHour on Twitter on Wednesday’s 8-9pm as set up by mum Rose Wren.

Rose has suffered postnatal depression and has created a print out quote to remind those suffering that they WILL get better.

Print it out and stick it on the fridge, tuck it away in your purse for times when you’re out and about and need a little lift. Pop it in the glove box in the car for those moments when you’re gripping the steering wheel that little bit too tight. Keep it under your pillow for when the dark makes you feel low.
Download our Keep Fighting PND quote here.

As Rose says: You can get your life back. Sometimes, though, you just need a little reminder.