Postnatal depression

Postnatal depression is a type of depression some women experience after having a baby.

It can develop within the first six weeks of giving birth, but is often not apparent until around six months.

Postnatal depression is more common than many people realise, affecting around one in 10 women after having a baby.

Women from all ethnic groups can be affected. Teenage mothers are particularly at risk.

Postnatal depression can sometimes go unnoticed and many women are unaware they have it, even though they don't feel quite right.

The symptoms of postnatal depression are wide-ranging and can include low mood, feeling unable to cope and difficulty sleeping.

Signs and symptoms 

Mood changes, irritability and episodes of tearfulness are common after giving birth. These symptoms are often known as the "baby blues" and they usually clear up within a few weeks. However, if your symptoms are more persistent, it could be postnatal depression.

Some women don’t recognise they have postnatal depression, or they choose to ignore their symptoms because they’re afraid of being seen as a bad mother.

If you think that a partner, relative or friend is showing the signs and symptoms of postnatal depression, be supportive and encourage her to see a GP.

It's very important to understand that postnatal depression is an illness. If you have it, it doesn't mean you don't love or care for your baby.

Postnatal depression screening

Your GP will ask you the following two questions if they suspect you have postnatal depression:

  • During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
  • During the past month, have you often taken little or no pleasure in doing things that would normally make you happy?

It's possible you have postnatal depression if you answer yes to either question. If you answer yes to both questions, it's likely you have postnatal depression.

If you answer yes to either of the above two questions, your GP may also ask you:

  • Is this something you feel you need or want help with?

Read more about how postnatal depression is diagnosed.

Treating postnatal depression

Postnatal depression can be lonely, distressing and frightening, but there are many treatments available.

As long as it's recognised and treated, postnatal depression is a temporary condition you can recover from.

It's very important to seek treatment if you think you or your partner has postnatal depression. The condition is unlikely to get better by itself quickly and it could impact on the care of the baby.

Treatment for postnatal depression includes:

Read more about treating postnatal depression.

Why do I have postnatal depression?

The cause of postnatal depression isn't clear, but it's thought to be the result of several things rather than a single cause. These may include:

  • the physical and emotional stress of looking after a newborn baby, particularly a lack of sleep
  • hormonal changes that occur shortly after pregnancy; some women may be particularly sensitive to these changes
  • individual social circumstances, such as money worries, poor social support or relationship problems

The following will put you at greater risk of developing postnatal depression:

  • a previous history of depression or other mood disorders
  • a previous history of postnatal depression
  • if you experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy

Read more about the causes of postnatal depression.

Preventing postnatal depression

You should tell your GP if you've had postnatal depression in the past and you're pregnant, or if you're considering having another baby. A previous history of postnatal depression increases your risk of developing it again.

If you keep your GP informed, they'll be aware that postnatal depression could develop after your baby is born. This will prevent a delay in diagnosis and treatment can begin earlier. In the early stages, postnatal depression can be easy to miss.

The following self-help measures can also be useful in preventing postnatal depression:

Read more about preventing postnatal depression and the self-help measures you can take.

Depression is when you have feelings of extreme sadness, despair or inadequacy that last for a long time.

© Crown Copyright 2009

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Find out more here.