Postnatal depression is the name given to depression that develops between one month and up to one year after the birth of a baby. It affects about 1 in every 7 women who give birth in Australia each year.
All parents go through a period of adjustment as they try to handle the huge changes a baby brings. For most people, this time of adjustment will be temporary and will not be overly distressing.
Many women experience the 'baby blues' in the first few days after having a baby.
The baby blues usually only last 2 to 3 days and you might feel teary, anxious and moody during that time.
The support of your partner, family and friends is usually enough to help you get through it.
When these feelings last beyond these early days and continue to get worse, it may be a sign of developing depression.
What are the signs of postnatal depression?
There are many signs that someone may be struggling with postnatal depression. Some of the more common ones include:
- have a very low mood
- feel inadequate and a failure as a mother
- have a sense of hopelessness about the future
- feel exhausted, empty, sad and teary
- feel guilty, ashamed or worthless
- feel anxious or panicky
- have trouble sleeping, sleep for too long or have nightmares
- worry excessively about their baby
- are scared of being alone or going out.
In some cases, women may experience thoughts about leaving their family or worried that their partner may leave them. They could also have ideas about self-harm or doing harm to their partner or baby. In situations like this, you should seek professional help straight away.
It is also common to experience symptoms of anxiety at the same time as depression.
How is postnatal depression diagnosed?
If you've had any of these symptoms for 2 weeks or more, talk to your doctor or midwife. Postnatal depression needs to be properly diagnosed and managed by a trained healthcare professional.
Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale
The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) is a questionnaire that asks about your feelings and symptoms. The EPDS is not used for diagnosis, but indicates whether you may have some symptoms common with depression and anxiety.
Find out more about the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale from beyondblue.
Treating postnatal depression
A range of different treatments can help with postnatal depression, including:
- group treatment
- support strategies
- medications such as antidepressants.
Support from family and friends is important.
Puerperal (postpartum) psychosis
Puerperal (postpartum) psychosis is less common and can develop in the first week, and up to 12 weeks, after childbirth. It involves having difficulties thinking clearly, extreme mood swings, seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations), feeling everyone is against you (paranoia) and powerful delusions. This is a medical emergency and a doctor should be contacted immediately.
Find out more on puerperal (postpartum) psychosis from beyondblue.
Postnatal depression and fathers
Postnatal depression is not limited to mothers. Fathers can have postnatal depression too, either along with their partner’s postnatal depression or by themselves.
Read more about fathers and depression.
Help and support
If you or someone you know is showing signs of depression, there are a number places you can go for help:
Last reviewed: November 2015