Postnatal Depression & the Baby Blues

Mum hugging friend

Having a baby is one of life’s biggest adventures.

However, in those early days, weeks and months following the birth, you’ll likely experience a whirlwind of emotions. After all, you’ve just done an incredible job of bringing a tiny human into the world!


After nine months of pregnancy and going through labour, it’s not unusual to feel low in mood, tearful and irritable, and such feelings could be the result of either postnatal depression or the ‘baby blues’. It can feel very unsettling, particularly as new parents often feel under pressure to enjoy every single second with their new baby.


If this is resonating with you, you’re most definitely not alone. Here we’ll be looking at the signs and symptoms of postnatal depression and the baby blues, and what to do if you’re struggling with either.

What is postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression is a type of depression experienced by new parents after the birth of their baby. It’s very common, affecting over 1 in 10 women in the first year after giving birth1. It can also affect partners and fathers.


Whilst many women are teary, and experience feelings of anxiety and low mood for a few days after their baby is born, postnatal depression can start at any point during the first year of birth and its symptoms last for longer2. It’s a condition that can develop slowly over time which can make it difficult to recognise, with many parents not realising that they’re suffering with it straight away.


If you’re worried about how you’re feeling at any point following the birth of your baby, it’s very important that you speak with your doctor. That way you can ensure you’re getting the correct diagnosis and the right advice and support.

Baby sling

Symptoms & signs of postnatal depression

Postnatal depression has a number of different signs and symptoms and affects everyone differently. You might feel anxious, or find yourself constantly worrying that something bad will happen to you, your baby or those closest to you. You may also feel agitated and irritable.


Postnatal depression can be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping, feeling tired all the time, chest pain, stomach upsets, and a loss of appetite or overeating3.


Some other signs of postnatal depression include4:


  • Problems with concentration and the ability to make decisions
  • Panic or anxiety attacks
  • Resisting contact with other people and withdrawing socially
  • An ongoing feeling of sadness
  • Feeling worthless and that you’re a bad parent
  • Frightening thoughts, including thoughts of harming your baby or that life isn’t worth living since your baby’s birth

What causes postnatal depression?

The exact cause of postnatal depression isn’t known, but there are several factors that can make it more likely to happen. For example5:


  • A previous personal history of mental health difficulties
  • Being alone without the support of family or friends
  • Having experienced a recent traumatic event
  • Recent stressful life events or psychological traumas, for example domestic violence or a bereavement


However, postnatal depression can still occur even if you haven’t experienced any of the above. When it comes to life-changing events, having a baby is one of the biggest. Sleep deprivation, coping with a change in the dynamics of your relationship, and adjusting to life as a new parent can all be responsible for triggering depression6.

Postnatal depression treatments & help

If you or your partner are struggling with postnatal depression, you’re not alone. There are plenty of options when it comes to treatment, and it’s reassuring to know that with the right support, the majority of people make a full recovery7. The first step is to admit that you’re struggling and seek advice from your GP.


To help you overcome difficult feelings and thought patterns, your GP may recommend a course of therapy such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) or interpersonal therapy8. Talking with a therapist about the problems you’re experiencing can go a long way when it comes to breaking negative cycles and identifying any underlying problems in your life that might be contributing to your depression.


If your postnatal depression is more severe or other treatments haven’t helped, your doctor can prescribe an antidepressant that's safe to take while breastfeeding9.  Antidepressants can help to ease some of the symptoms of postnatal depression, enabling you to function better and manage the care of your new baby.


Association for Post Natal Illness, the National Childbirth Trust or the mental health charity Mind. They each have telephone helplines that you can call for additional advice, support and resources that you might find useful if you’re affected by postnatal depression.

What to do if you think you have postnatal depression

If you think you might have postnatal depression, it’s a good idea to talk to your health visitor or doctor as soon as you can. Together you’ll be able to find the right course of treatment and support for you.


Alongside guidance from your GP, there are also some self-help techniques that you can try to help manage and lessen any symptoms:


  • Don’t bottle up your feelings. Talk to your partner, a close friend, relative or other mums about what you’re going through
  • Don’t try to do too much in a day and take time out for you, resting when you need to
  • Accept help from those around you
  • Make time to do things you enjoy, whether simply going for a walk or catching up on your favourite TV series
  • Try to do some level of exercise and eat a healthy diet
  • Avoid drinking alcohol

When does postnatal depression start?

Postnatal depression can start at any time during the first year after you’ve had your baby10. Symptoms can come on very suddenly or progress gradually, making it sometimes difficult to spot. That's why it’s really important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of postnatal depression, so that you can seek support and treatment as soon as possible.

How long does postnatal depression last?

Postnatal depression can last for several months, and symptoms can continue to get worse if you don’t seek treatment11. To ensure that you’re getting the right support for your circumstances, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Nobody should have to go through postnatal depression alone and you don’t have to.


With the right treatment, most people make a full recovery and go on to lead happy lives as parents.

How common is postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression is very common. More than 1 in every 10 women experience it within the first year after giving birth12.


If this is something you’re experiencing, it’s important that you seek support. You may feel as if you’re ‘going mad’, and worry that you’re a bad parent or that your baby will be taken away from you. It’s important for you to know that this isn’t the case. Postnatal depression can happen to anyone, the main thing is to ensure that you’re getting the right support. 

Can my partner get postnatal depression?

Yes, studies have shown that around 8% of new fathers become depressed in their baby’s first year13, so postnatal depression certainly isn’t exclusive to new mothers.


Postnatal depression in dads and partners will often come with similar symptoms, as having  a new baby is a huge change for both you and your partner. It’s important to be able to spot the signs and symptoms so that you can encourage your partner to seek advice and support.

How to help someone with postnatal depression

If you’re concerned that your partner, or someone you care about, has postnatal depression, the main thing you can do is be there for them. Whether this means providing reassurance, helping with housework and childcare or accompanying them to a GP appointment, there’s plenty you can do to help.


Make time to contact them regularly, and perhaps plan things that you can do together. If those plans are constantly rejected, keep trying, as it will let them know that you’re not going to give up or abandon them.


It’s very important not to allocate blame, as many people suffering with postnatal depression feel worthless, worried that they’re a bad parent and that the way they’re feeling is their fault. Simply be there, listen and be patient.


If you recognise the signs of postnatal depression in a friend, family member or partner, encourage them to get help and support. With the right treatment, they’ll be more likely to make a quicker recovery.

What are the baby blues?

The baby blues are feelings of tearfulness, sadness and anxiety that many women experience just after having their baby. They’re thought to be down to a sudden change in pregnancy hormones and the anticlimax that comes after giving birth, although no-one’s really sure14.


If you experience these feelings in the first few days of your baby’s life, rest assured that it’s completely normal. You’ve been through a huge life change - it’s going to take time to adjust.

Baby blues symptoms & signs

When it comes to the baby blues, symptoms usually only last for a few days and include15:


  • Bursting into tears for no apparent reason and feeling very emotional
  • Feeling restless and anxious
  • Experiencing a low mood and feelings of irritability

How long do baby blues last?

The baby blues shouldn’t last longer than a few days16. Plenty of rest and support from family and friends are usually all you need to get through them, but if you’re still struggling after a week or two, it’s worth speaking to your health visitor or doctor to rule out postnatal depression.

When do the baby blues start?

The baby blues generally happen a few days after giving birth17. They might seem to come out of nowhere, or gradually build up after your little one is born. Remember that having a baby is a big change, and it’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed and overcome with a variety of different emotions in those first few days and weeks.

Support & help for baby blues

A good pair of ears and a reassuring cuddle can work wonders when you’re feeling down. Lots of mums go through the baby blues, and it’s very likely that you’ll feel better in a few days.


Patience and reassurance from your partner, family and friends will go a long way, so take them up on their offers of help and time. Even if that just means coming round for a cup of tea and a chat, or helping you out with cooking and cleaning. 


If you’re concerned that you’re experiencing more than just the baby blues, speak to your GP or health visitor.

Difference between baby blues and postnatal depression

When it comes to the baby blues vs postnatal depression, the main differences are how long they last, and how serious the symptoms can be.


Whilst postnatal depression can go on for months, the "baby blues" will normally disappear a couple of days or weeks after giving birth18. You’ll also experience milder levels of sadness and low mood when compared with postnatal depression. For instance, the baby blues can leave you feeling tearful and upset, but you shouldn’t feel hopeless and unable to enjoy your life anymore.


However you feel after having your baby, the important thing to remember is that there’s no right or wrong. Every baby and every parent is different, so never compare yourself to others, or feel guilty if you’re not feeling the way you expected to feel. If you find yourself dealing with the baby blues or postnatal depression, never be afraid to seek help and get the support you need. You’ve got this.

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