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woman with postnatal depression sitting beside a cot

Postnatal Depression: What You Need to Know

February 25, 2015

Having a new baby is a wonderful time, all around are constant good wishes and every new stage seems like a little miracle. But what if this is not what it feels like for you? In the midst of all this happiness you may be hearing a different voice from inside; of worries, self criticism, nagging doubts, concerns about bonding. If this is how you're feeling, it's not only very normal - it happens to many women - but you are not alone in terms of help and support. Here we take a look at what you need to know about postnatal depression, in particular symptoms to look out for and how to go about getting help.

Baby Blues

A drop in mood or 'baby blues' is so normal about day 3-10 to postpartum (after baby is born) - it happens to almost everyone. Although the exact cause is unknown, the physical and emotional adjustment after birth combined with hormones, fatigue and disruption of routine is likely to contribute.

For new Mums this can be particularly disconcerting when everyone around is telling you how happy you should be. For those having their second baby or more, there is the added pressure of having other siblings to care for and their emotional response to the new arrival to deal with. But when does this normal, transient low mood or tearfulness become a more significant problem?

What is Postnatal Depression?

As many as 1 in 8 women suffer with postnatal depression. Postnatal depression (PND) usually commences by 4 weeks postpartum but may persist for many months if not recognised. This makes sense as the 'honeymoon' new-born period, and visitors with offers of help and well wishes have often petered out. Your partner is likely back at work and the nights of disturbed sleep seem never ending, baby may be going through a difficult colicky phase or a return to work for mum may be looming. Sometimes as with all forms of depression there is just no triggering reason.

As with other forms of depression, guilt and self-criticism often predominate. Why am I not happy when I have this lovely baby? What is wrong with me? Why can I not bond and be a good mother? These thoughts or feelings and the guilt associated with them can be even more stark if it has been a long awaited pregnancy or if there are twins (an event that often coincides with the increase in assisted fertility treatments).

Mums with very little social or financial support, unplanned pregnancies and personal or family history of mental health difficulties are also more at risk of developing PND.

What are the symptoms of Postnatal Depression?

The symptoms of Postnatal Depression may include the following:
  • Low mood. Tends to be worse first thing in the morning, but not always.
  • Not really enjoying anything. Lack of interest in yourself and your baby.
  • Lack of motivation to do anything.
  • Often feeling tearful.
  • Feeling irritable a lot of the time.
  • Feelings of guilt, rejection, or inadequacy.
  • Poor concentration (like forgetting or losing things) or being unable to make a decision about things.
  • Feeling unable to cope with anything.
  • You may also have thoughts about harming your baby. Around half the women with postnatal depression have these thoughts. This can obviously be very frightening. If these thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself occur it is vital to seek help urgently.
  • Many women feel frightened, ashamed and unable to tell anyone, they feel unable to cope. This results in a barrier to asking for and receiving help. Loved ones may be able to offer an objective view.

Getting Help is So Important

If you feel this way, you're not alone. This problem is not your fault and can be helped. Talk to your GP, practice or public health nurse. They are well positioned to help with this common problem and can offer help, advice and treatment. For most this is a transient difficulty, especially with the right support and often small changes in terms of greater rest, childcare support, exercise and talking openly about these feelings go a long way towards solving the problem.

In more severe cases and especially in those with previous episodes of depression or mental health difficulties psychological supports and treatments and/or medication may be of benefit. Getting help will help make things better for you, your baby and your partner/family.

You can find more information and resources on Postnatal Depression on hse.ie.

Please note, this blog is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice.

Checked and updated: 31 August 2021