Feeling depressed

Content supplied by NHS Choices

The baby blues

During the first week after childbirth, many women get what is often called the ‘baby blues’. This is probably due to the sudden hormonal and chemical changes that take place in your body after childbirth.

Symptoms can include:

  • feeling emotional and irrational,
  • bursting into tears for no apparent reason,
  • feeling irritable or touchy, or
  • feeling depressed or anxious.

All these symptoms are normal and usually only last for a few days.

Postnatal depression

Depression after a baby is born can be extremely distressing. Postnatal depression is thought to affect around one in 10 women (and up to four in 10 teenage mothers). Many women suffer in silence and friends, relatives and health professionals don’t know how they’re feeling.

Postnatal depression usually occurs two to eight weeks after the birth, though sometimes it can happen up to a year after the baby is born.

Symptoms such as tiredness, irritability or poor appetite are normal if you’ve just had a baby, but usually these are mild and don’t stop you leading a normal life.

When you have postnatal depression, you may feel increasingly depressed and despondent. Looking after yourself or your baby may become too much. Other signs of postnatal depression are:

  • anxiety,
  • panic attacks,
  • sleeplessness,
  • extreme tiredness,
  • aches and pains,
  • feeling generally unwell,
  • memory loss or being unable to concentrate,
  • feelings of not being able to cope,
  • not being able to stop crying,
  • loss of appetite,
  • feelings of hopelessness,
  • not being able to enjoy anything,
  • loss of interest in the baby, and
  • excessive anxiety about the baby.

Getting help for postnatal depression

If you think you have postnatal depression, don’t struggle alone. It’s not a sign that you’re a bad mother or are unable to cope. Postnatal depression is an illness and you need to get help, just as you would if you had the flu or a broken leg.

Talk to someone you trust, such as your partner or a friend, or ask your health visitor to call in and visit you. Many health visitors have been trained to recognise postnatal depression and have techniques that can help. If they can’t help, they’ll know someone in your area who can.

It’s also important to see your GP. If you don’t feel up to making an appointment, ask someone to do it for you.


Milder cases of postnatal depression can be treated with counselling. This can be given by the health visitor or a therapist. More severe cases often require antidepressants and you may need to see a specialist.

It’s important to let your GP know if you’re breastfeeding. If you need to take antidepressants, they’ll prescribe a type of medication that’s suitable while you’re breastfeeding.

You may also find it helpful to contact the Association for Postnatal Illness or the National Childbirth Trust.

Your local children’s centre can put you in touch with your nearest postnatal group. These groups provide contact with other new mothers and encourage mums to support each other. They offer social activities and help with parenting skills.

Avoiding alcohol

Alcohol may appear to help you relax and unwind. In fact, it’s a depressant that affects your mood, judgement, self-control and co-ordination. It has even more of an effect if you’re tired and run-down. Be careful about how much and when you drink, and don’t drink alcohol if you’re taking anti-depressants or tranquillisers.

Puerperal psychosis

This condition is extremely rare. Only one or two mothers in a thousand develop a severe psychiatric illness that requires medical or hospital treatment after the birth of a baby. This illness can develop within hours of childbirth and is very serious, needing urgent attention.

Other people usually notice it first as often the mother acts strangely. It is more likely to happen if you have a severe mental illness, a past history of severe mental illness or a family history of perinatal mental illness. Specialist mother and baby units can provide expert treatment without separating you from your baby.

Most women make a complete recovery, although this may take a few weeks or months.


NHS Choices
Published Date 2010-12-15
Last Review Date 2009-07-28

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