What is postnatal depression?

Baby's hand holding an adult fingerPostnatal depression is a very common type of depression that occurs after having a baby. It affects more than 1 in 10 women within a year of giving birth. Fathers and partners can also be affected.

What causes postnatal depression?

It is not known exactly what causes postnatal depression, but several causes have been suggested. It is likely that a number of different stresses may add up to cause it.

Anyone who has had a baby can develop postnatal depression, but some of the risk factors that mean you are more likely to experience postnatal depression are:

  • Previous mental health problems (particularly depression) earlier in life
  • Depression or anxiety during pregnancy
  • A poor support network, for example having no close family or friends to support you
  • A difficult relationship with your partner
  • Recent stressful life events, such as death of someone close to you or relationship breakdown
  • Physical or psychological trauma, such as domestic violence or abuse

Baby lying on an adult

When does it start?

More than half of new mothers will experience the "baby blues”. They start in the first week after having a baby, usually about 3 to 4 days after birth. Symptoms include feeling down, tearful or anxious. You may be irritable, or over-react to certain situations. The “baby blues” usually stop by the time your baby is about 10 days old. They do not last longer than 2 weeks after giving birth. If your symptoms last longer or start later, you might have postnatal depression.

Postnatal depression usually starts within one or two months after having a baby, but it can start any time in the first year after giving birth.

Postnatal depression sometimes begins during pregnancy, but it would only be called postnatal depression if it continues after you have had your baby.

For some women, postnatal depression can develop suddenly. For other women, it can develop gradually, so many do not realise they have it.

What are the symptoms?

Some of the symptoms are similar to those of depression that occurs at other times. Symptoms include:

  • A persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
  • Feeling irritable or angry with your partner, baby or other children
  • Feeling unable to enjoy or be interested in anything
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
  • Trouble sleeping at night (even when your baby is asleep) and feeling sleepy during the day
  • Appetite changes
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Withdrawing from contact with other people
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Negative thoughts - for example, that you are not a good mother, that your baby doesn’t love you or that you can’t cope

Contact a GP, or call 111, immediately if:

  • You are unable to look after yourself or your baby
  • You have frightening thoughts about hurting your baby. These can be scary, but people with these kinds of thoughts rarely harm their baby
  • You are thinking about suicide or self-harm
  • You develop unusual beliefs (delusions) or hallucinate (seeing and hearing things that are not real, like hearing voices) - this may be postpartum psychosis

Always call 999 or go to A&E if you think there is a danger of immediate harm to yourself or others.

How do I know if I have postnatal depression?

This video from the NHS features three women discussing their personal experiences of postnatal depression and the symptoms they had.

What treatments are available?

If you think you might be experiencing postnatal depression, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. The support of your GP, a midwife or health visitor can be really helpful. Remember, it’s never too late to reach out for help.

The good news is that there are lots of effective treatments available, and most women make a full recovery with the right support.

The type of support you need will depend on how severe your depression is. Treatments include:

  • Self-help – things you can try yourself such as talking to your family and friends about how you are feeling and what they can do to help you; resting or sleeping whenever you get the chance; maintaining a healthy, balanced diet; eating regularly (even if you don’t feel like eating); exercising and making time for yourself to do things you enjoy - for example, reading a book, meeting a friend for lunch or going for a walk. It can also be really helpful to try some relaxation and mindful breathing techniques.
  • Psychological therapy – Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services offer evidence-based talking therapies to help treat depression. The type of therapy offered will vary depending on your local IAPT service. Therapy may include guided self-help sessions with a therapist, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling. Women who are pregnant or have recently given birth are usually given priority. At Keeping Well, we can make a referral to IAPT services on your behalf.
  • Medication – If your depression is more severe, or it has not improved after trying other treatments, your doctor may prescribe medication such as antidepressants. If you are breastfeeding, you can talk to your doctor about medicines that are safe to take while breastfeeding.

At Keeping Well BLMK, we can provide a safe, supportive space for you to talk about what’s going on for you. We can also help think with you about how you might want to access support and make onward referrals if needed.

To get in touch, message us on our live chat or give us a call on 01908 724 227. You can also request a call back or submit a self-referral form.

Further reading

Useful contacts


See these pages for more information about postpartum depression and how you can get support:

Updated on: 21/04/2022