Postnatal depression

Postnatal depression (PND) is common – more than 1 in 7 new mothers will be depressed in the first year of their baby’s life. Postnatal anxiety is just as common, and frequently, both depression and anxiety are coupled together.  The way PND affects each woman depends on a number of individual factors.

It can be hard to recognise PND because many of the symptoms are similar to exhaustion; of course, this is normal when caring for a new baby. However, postnatal depression is far more than simply feeling tired or adjusting to becoming a parent.  It is also different to the ‘baby blues’ which generally develop between days 3-10 after a baby’s birth.

Support and treatment for PND are incredibly helpful and the earlier a new mother asks for help, the more likely she will have a quick recovery.

What are my risks of getting PND?

Some women are more likely to develop PND, depending on their individual makeup. It’s also possible to have PND without any previous risk factors.

Although the exact cause for PND isn’t clear, some contributing factors increase its likelihood:

  • Having a past history of depression, including PND, or experiencing other mental health issues.
  • Having additional stress in the last year – pregnancy complications, a traumatic birth or disappointment about the baby’s birth.
  • Financial stress or illness.
  • Lack of support or problems in your relationship with your partner.
  • If your pregnancy was unplanned.

Symptoms of postnatal depression

Symptoms of PND are similar to any other type of depression, though they are compounded by caring for a young baby. Many women find it difficult to describe exactly what they’re feeling, saying they feel “numb” or just “flat”.  Often, family and the people around them can see a change as well.

Symptoms of PND also change at different times of the day (and night), which means it can be hard to decide to get help. Every woman’s experience of depression is unique – symptoms can be mild or more severe.

Common symptoms of PND

  • Constantly feeling sad, low and not having any energy.
  • Feeling highly emotional and crying easily.
  • Not enjoying parenthood or the new baby. Not feeling an emotional connection with the baby.
  • Changes in appetite and lack of appetite.
  • Not being able to sleep even though you may feel exhausted.
  • Feeling nervous, anxious and worried for no reason. For example, fears that something may happen to you and/or your baby.
  • Having distressing thoughts about you or the baby.
  • Becoming easily irritated, angry and annoyed, even at the smallest things.
  • Becoming obsessive in your thoughts and actions.
  • Difficulty concentrating, staying focused or remembering things.

Help for postnatal depression

Women with PND say that everything about it is hard, even asking for help.  But recovery starts with a correct diagnosis and individualised plan for support.

Most women find their GP is the best place to start. They are able to discuss a range of treatment options which are likely to include:

  • Talking therapies – referral to a counsellor or psychologist is standard.
  • Prescription for medication to help treat the depression and/or anxiety.
  • Referral to another health professional e.g., a Child Health Nurse who can support you with your baby.

For more information check

New parents – COPE

PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia Phone 1300 726 306

Postnatal depression (PND) – Better Health Channel

Written by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse for Sudocrem, February 2022.