Symptoms and Support for Postnatal Depression

Article By
Kate
Published On
18 Jul, 2023
Read Time
4 minutes

Recent CDC research shows that about one in eight women in the US experience symptoms of postnatal depression (PND). It's important that parents are aware of the signs and symptoms, and that they know when and how to seek help if it's needed.

In this guide, we'll cover what postnatal depression is, what symptoms you should look out for, and how it can be treated.

What is postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression (also referred to as postpartum depression) is a common form of depression that occurs after a person has had a baby. It's different from the post-birth 'baby blues' that people talk about.

It can develop suddenly, or gradually over time, which can make it tricky to identify. It varies and can be mild to very severe.

Many people are so wrapped up in caring for their newborn that they don't stop to check in with themselves, so understanding postnatal depression is an important step in being able to take the best care of yourself and your baby.

Postpartum depression symptoms

Unfortunately, it's estimated that nearly 50% of moms with postpartum depression go undiagnosed. This is often because people either don't recognize that they have it, or they overlook their symptoms because they're worried about judgment from others.

It's important to know that PND is common, and you'll never be judged for speaking out about how you're feeling. Being aware of and spreading knowledge about the symptoms of postnatal depression is an important step in reducing the stigma around it and helping more parents get the support they deserve.

Signs that you or someone you know might be depressed include:

  • A feeling of sadness or a low mood that doesn't go away
  • Lack of interest or enjoyment in things that once brought joy
  • Avoiding contact with others and withdrawing from social situations
  • Trouble sleeping in the evening
  • Feeling tired or lacking energy during the day
  • Finding it difficult to take care of the baby or yourself
  • Problems with decision-making and concentration
  • Under or overeating
  • Thinking that you're a bad parent
  • Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or guilty
  • Lacking confidence or feeling low in self-esteem
  • Having concerning or intrusive thoughts about things like hurting the baby or yourself

If you have thoughts of suicide or harming yourself or your baby, you should seek help from your doctor right away.

Potential causes of post-pregnancy depression

The truth is, there's no clear cause for postnatal depression, but there are some factors that can make it more likely that you'll experience postnatal depression. These include:

  • Having a family history of mental health problems after childbirth.
  • Dealing with anxiety or depression while pregnant or if you were already managing mental health issues before becoming a parent. If you have a history of depression or mental health problems and are thinking about getting pregnant it's a good idea to speak to your doctor so that they can support you and offer you appropriate, safe treatment.
  • Experiencing a stressful event after the baby arrives such as moving house, a relationship breakdown, or the death of a loved one.
  • Having twins. Moms of multiple births can be more at risk.
  • Lack of support from a partner, close family, or friends.
  • Experiencing domestic violence or trauma.

Having a baby is a life-changing event that can sometimes trigger depression, even if none of the above points apply to you.

Postpartum mental health support

It can be a really difficult time, but it's important to remember that there's always support available if you or someone you know is dealing with postnatal depression.

Your family doctor can be a great first point of contact when it comes to getting support, and the following US-based charities are dedicated to supporting the mental well-being of parents.

Treatment options for post-pregnancy depression

Although experiencing postnatal depression can be isolating and distressing, there are numerous treatments available, and with the right support, people can and do recover.  Recovery is often gradual and can take time, but 80% of women with postpartum depression will achieve a full recovery.

Which treatment is right for you can depend on several factors and your healthcare providers can help guide your recovery journey.

Talking therapies

Many people recover from postnatal depression with the help of psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, or other mental health professionals, and talking therapy like interpersonal therapy (IPT) or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you to reframe your thinking and change your thoughts to help improve your other symptoms in a safe, non-judgmental environment.

Medication

You may be prescribed antidepressants if your depression is more severe, and your symptoms haven't improved with other treatments. There are several types of antidepressants. Your doctor will be able to advise you which one is best for you, particularly if you're breastfeeding.

Self-help

You should always speak to a healthcare provider if you're feeling depressed, but sometimes self-help techniques can work well alongside other treatment methods.

Things like talking to your family and friends, asking for more help with your baby, making time for yourself to do the things you enjoy, eating healthily, and exercising regularly can help boost your mood and lighten the load of new parenthood.

How long does postnatal depression last?

Because every situation is unique, there's no definitive timeline for how long postnatal depression lasts. It can start anytime within a year of a baby's birth (usually within the first six weeks after birth) and can last months or go on for more than a year in some cases.

Postnatal depression is different from the 'baby blues' in that it can last for an extended period if not treated. In the minority of cases, it can develop into a more serious issue that requires a long-term treatment plan.

Postpartum depression is a common condition that affects new moms and sometimes new dads. A recent study by the CDC showed that about one in eight women in the US experience symptoms of postnatal depression (PND), and it's thought that between eight and 10% of dads are affected.

You should speak to your doctor as soon as possible if you think you may be depressed. Signs of depression include:

  • feeling sad and low for an extended period
  • feeling unable to enjoy things you used to
  • feeling low in energy or tired all the time
  • finding it difficult to sleep at night
  • struggling to care for yourself and your baby
  • avoiding contact with others
  • struggling to make decisions and concentrate
  • having frightening thoughts
  • having low self-esteem
  • appetite changes

Yes, postnatal depression is thought to affect eight to 10% of dads, and studies show that around 50% of men who have partners diagnosed with postpartum depression go on to develop depression themselves.

Sleep deprivation, changes in routine, financial pressures, changes in relationship dynamics, and their partner dealing with depression can all play a part in causing this. Some men find it harder to seek support, but it's so important for dads to tell their doctor and those close to them if they're feeling anxious or depressed.

If you're concerned that someone you love is suffering from PND, you should encourage them to speak to their doctor as soon as possible. Remember to listen to them, be patient, and make sure they're able to rest. Helping to care for their baby and doing chores around the house will help them feel supported if they are struggling.

If this content reminds you of your own experiences or makes you think of someone you know and you feel concerned or uncomfortable, please head to the PSI website for information about perinatal mental health resources that may be able to help.