"Having a baby is a significant time and becoming a new parent can be an enormous life adjustment. While it is both a challenging and overwhelmingly positive experience for most parents, it can also be a time when a woman develops depression, especially if she has experienced depression before. Depression is always serious, but when it coincides with the arrival of a new baby, it can be particularly difficult to deal with. Postnatal depression is not uncommon, it is nothing to be embarrassed about, and it is important that you are cared for.
If you are unsure about whether you may be affected by postnatal depression, see your GP."
Dr Christine Bennett,
Chair, Medical Advisory Panel, Bupa Australia
Many women can feel a bit teary or down a few days after the birth of a baby, especially if it's your first. This is often referred to as the 'baby blues' and it affects around 80 percent of new mothers.1 Usually, most women will find their mood improves after a few days.
Postnatal depression is different to this; it's much more than just the 'baby blues'. 'Postnatal' means 'after the birth' and depression that develops within a year of having a baby is called postnatal depression. Postnatal depression is actually quite common - around one in eight mothers will be affected by the condition.
Symptoms vary in severity but are generally similar to those of depression. Many women blame themselves, their partners or their baby for the way they feel after giving birth. Others may be reluctant to admit to themselves or others that they may be suffering from postnatal depression or are not coping with their baby.
Society and the media project images of happy mothers with contented babies and it may be difficult to admit to yourself or to your friends and family that this is not the reality. Friends or family members who are new mothers may also not admit to what motherhood is really like for them, adding to your feelings of inadequacy.1
Some mums try hard to 'snap out of it' without understanding that women with postnatal depression have little control over the way they are feeling and need to seek help from a supportive GP or other health provider. If new mums and their partners learn to recognise the signs and symptoms of postnatal depression, they can find help and support as soon as symptoms appear.
The important thing to remember is that there's plenty of support and resources to help parents through the ups and downs.
Symptoms usually begin within four months of the birth but can begin at any time within the first year. Signs of postnatal depression may include:
You might worry that you are going to harm your baby but women with postnatal depression rarely do so. Women often dismiss their feelings through fear of being labelled a bad mother but it's important to seek help early.
The exact cause of postnatal depression isn't known - it may be several factors working together:
Any pregnant woman is at risk of postnatal depression. It can happen after a miscarriage, stillbirth, normal delivery, or caesarean delivery.1
However, you are more likely to have it if: 3
Many women feel confused or ashamed about their symptoms and delay seeking help. If left untreated, postnatal depression can last for months or years and affect your relationships. It's very important that you speak up and get help. You can talk to your midwife, maternal and child health nurse or GP, who will ask you about your mood, your health and your baby. You may be referred to a community child health centre for support, a psychologist or counsellor.1
If you think you may have postnatal depression, bring your symptoms to the attention of your midwife, maternal and child health nurse or GP. If your partner or other family members express concern that you may have postnatal depression, discuss this with your health provider. You can reduce the impact of depression during this time if you recognise and managed it as early as possible.4
Doctors, midwives and other health professionals are trained to be aware of the symptoms of postnatal depression and can offer sympathetic, prompt treatment. They'll most likely discuss with you how you're feeling, ask you how long you've been feeling down, and how you're coping with the added stress of life with a new baby.
They may also ask you to complete a brief questionnaire which helps identify if you're at risk. A commonly used questionnaire is the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, which has 10 simple questions and a scoring system.4
Currently, about three to 10 percent of new fathers experience postnatal depression. Men who suffer from postnatal depression also need help and support. Men can experience postnatal depression either parallel to or independently of the mother's depression. Many of the risk factors for men are similar to those for women. But some that are specific to fathers include: 5
New fathers don't have the same level of regular access to health and support services that new mothers do. They tend not to see their GP as often and may not visit pregnancy and baby-related health services, so their problems are less likely to be recognised.
If you suspect that your partner is suffering from postnatal depression it's important that you help him. As with women, it's important that depression in fathers is recognised and treated early and effectively. This will help avoid long-term effects on his mental health, and will benefit all his relationships including his relationship with you, his children, family and friends.5
Your GP can arrange counselling and other forms of psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT aims to reduce unhelpful thoughts and behaviours, and improve coping.
Your doctor may talk to you about antidepressant medication. To help prevent postnatal depression recurring, the course of medication will usually last for some time after your symptoms clear up. There are some antidepressants you can take while breastfeeding and it's important to follow your midwife or doctor's advice about timing of feeds while on these medications.1,3,6
Attending parenting classes or groups, preferably with your partner, may help you to feel less isolated and more in control. Practical measures can also be beneficial, such as help with childcare so you can have time off. Sharing experiences with other mothers affected by postnatal depression may also help.
Ask your GP, midwife or community health nurse about support groups in your area.6 More information about finding help for mental health conditions.
Recent studies show that well-informed support in the first few weeks of childbirth can help prevent postnatal depression. The research found that new mothers who receive support from well-trained health providers and other women who've had postnatal depression were less likely to develop postnatal depression.
The Bupa Health Foundation is partnering with the Parent and Infant Research Institute (PIRI) at Austin Health to find suitable treatments in both the antenatal and postnatal periods to reduce the impact of postnatal depression.
Post and Antenatal Depression Association (PANDA)
Raising Children Network
Parent-Infant Research Institute (PIRI)
Last published: 30 July 2011
This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.
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