Feeling down, irritable or anxious after the birth of your baby is quite common. Even though it may take weeks or even months after baby is born to develop these feelings, it is still known as postnatal depression (PND).
It may set your mind at rest to know that there is no link between PND and not loving your baby. PND is a clinical illness and not a character weakness.
Although there is now more awareness of PND, a considerable number of women still suffer in silence.
Depression is quite common in women of childbearing age and all women may be susceptible to developing depression following childbirth.
However there are some risk factors that may increase your chance of experiencing depression following the birth of your child.
There are still gaps in the research on postnatal depression; however we do know who are more at risk, and some helpful ways to manage as a new mum when life does not quite feel right to you. Given that, you do not have to have these risk factors to experience postnatal depression.
Risk Factors for Postnatal Depression
Below is a list of the currently known risk factors for PND:
- You have a history of depression, either during pregnancy or at other times;
- You had PND after a previous pregnancy;
- You’ve experienced stressful events during the past year, such as pregnancy complications, illness or job loss;
- You are having problems in your relationship with your spouse or significant other;
- You have a weak support system;
- You have financial problems;
- The pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted.
There are a number of symptoms to be aware of.
Baby blues symptoms – which last only a few days to a week or two — may include:
- Mood swings;
- Decreased concentration;
- Trouble sleeping.
Postnatal Depression symptoms – which may take several weeks to several months to develop – may include:
- Loss of appetite;
- Intense irritability and anger;
- Overwhelming fatigue;
- Loss of interest in sex;
- Lack of joy in life;
- Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy;
- Severe mood swings;
- Difficulty bonding with your baby;
- Withdrawal from family and friends;
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
Treatment for Postnatal Depression
Untreated PND can last for months or longer, sometimes becoming a chronic depressive disorder; it can also interfere with the mother-child bonding and lead to family problems.
Postnatal depression may appear to be the baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms are more intense and longer lasting, eventually interfering with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks.
The mother’s most important step on the road to treatment and recovery is to acknowledge the problem. Family, partner and close friends’ support can have a major impact on a faster recovery.
If you believe you may have other health problems and also experience symptoms of PND you should consult your doctor to rule out other health issues prior to making an appointment with a psychologist. Your doctor will do a thorough history, examination and any appropriate testing before providing a referral to a mental health practitioner.
After correct diagnosis by a psychologist or psychiatrist, treatment for PND can be tailored to your needs. Interventions are based on best available evidence integrated with individual client characteristics, culture and preferences. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy have been found to be effective with PND, as well as problem solving and expressive therapies.
Thoughts of suicide, harming yourself or your baby can accompany depression and anxiety. If you are feeling this way, it is important to consult your doctor, local hospital or your local telephone directory for emergency support as soon as possible.
Registered Psychologist Mia Olsson has had a broad interdisciplinary role in the health industry for over thirty years, including hospital-based nurse training, and an Honours Degree majoring in Psychology completed in 1990. She has a particular interest in assisting clients with depressive disorders, anxiety, acute and chronic complex trauma, and health related issues.
- Australian Psychological Society. (2010). Evidence-based Psychological Interventions in the Treatment of Mental Disorders (3rd ed.)..
- Robertson, E., Grace, S., Wallington, T., & Stewart, D. (2004). Antenatal risk factors for postpartum depression: a synthesis of recent literature. General Hospital Psychiatry, 26(4), 289-295. doi:10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2004.02.006
The information on this topic page is NOT a substitute for proper diagnosis, treatment or the provision of advice by an appropriate health professional.