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What is postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression, also known as postpartum depression refers to a period of depression some mothers go through after pregnancy.

Grafiti by Niki PaulieAfter having a baby, it can be very difficult to admit you may not be as happy and excited as you thought you should be. The reality of motherhood can be difficult.

Other people, especially those who have not had children, may expect you to be filled with happiness.

However, you might instead feel anxious, exhausted and feel like crying. In these circumstances, you might be suffering from postnatal depression.

Signs and symptoms of postnatal depression

  • Low energy and motivation
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight
  • Loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Lack of interest in your new baby, and worries about hurting the baby
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Thoughts of death and suicide.

Usually, it takes several months for these feelings to fully develop during postnatal depression. Sometimes it can feel surprising when some of these feelings don’t surface until your baby is four to six months old.

Causes of postnatal depression

The causes postnatal depression are not known, however there are a few factors that seem to be associated with experiencing it.


After giving birth, hormone levels in the body dramatically change. This can lead to irritability, fatigue, changes in blood pressure, metabolism, and immune functioning.

Any of these can increase vulnerability to stress and depression after giving birth

Lifestyle changes

After having a baby, certain things about daily life change. Let’s face it, having a baby is fantastic, but it’s also hard work.

Your baby needs constant feeding, changing, bathing and comforting. For you, this means stress and less sleep because being a new mother is literally a 24-hour job.

As a result, it’s not uncommon to feel a loss of freedom. This can lead to feelings of depression and helplessness. It takes time to adjust to the new routine and responsibilities.

Physical changes

It takes a while for the body to heal after giving birth. The body goes through a lot of stress not only making a baby, but also during the delivery.

Residual pain and tenderness are both common after birth. Additionally, it can be frustrating trying to lose the excess weight from the baby and wanting for your body to return to how to you used to look. During this phase it is not uncommon to feel insecure about your appearance.


When we hear about starting a family or see images of it in the media, we imagine it being full of joy and excitement.

Commercials portray women with new babies with a “motherly glow,” being energetic and having a perfectly supportive partner.

Additionally, we often hear of women having a “motherly instinct” that helps them to become a perfect mother right away. With these expectations, it’s easy to imagine becoming a mother is beautiful and easy.

When reality sets in, it can be a shock to discover that there are skills to mothering that you learn with experience and that having a new baby is difficult and exhausting. This can leave you feeling that you can’t cope as well as other new mums and then feeling isolated.

Coping with postnatal depression

Although you may be preoccupied with taking care of the baby, it’s important to take care of yourself too. There are a few things you can try to help cope with the experience of postnatal depression.

Sleep: Although this sometimes seems impossible, the more you can catch up on sleep the better.

Considering poor sleep is a huge risk factor for developing depression, it makes sense that poor sleep as a new mother is going to increase the risk of developing postnatal depression.

Whether it means getting some cover from your partner, parent or friend; try to work in sleep where you can.

Have fun: Because being a new mum is more than a full-time job, find ways to fit in breaks somewhere.

Maybe if someone like a friend or family member can watch the baby while you and your partner have a date; or see if your partner can watch the baby while you visit friends.

Even just taking a bubble bath while the baby naps could help. Try to find ways to work in little treats for yourself.

Check your diet: When you’re so busy changing nappies, feeding the baby and then rocking it back to sleep, it’s easy to forget to eat.

Make sure you maintain a balanced diet each day. If you’re breastfeeding, your baby is going to get all its nutrition from you. It’s important to make sure you’re getting all the nutrition you need.

Get support: Talk to friends and family. If you’re feeling down, let someone know.

Other people like your partner or friends may not realise you’re having a hard time and need some support until you tell them. Plus, it can be nice to let out some of your feelings instead of trying to hold them all in. If you don’t have a partner then friends can be especially important.

Postnatal depression support groups: Joining a support group with other new mums can be extremely helpful. It gives you a chance to talk to other people who are going through the same situation as you and to share ideas with them.

It can be nice to hear that you’re not the only one struggling to make the transition into motherhood. Most people struggle with this adjustment. Hearing other perspectives provides a fresh outlook and can also reduce feelings of isolation or inadequacy.

Seek outside support: If you’re still having a difficult time, talk to your GP or a therapist.
A GP may be able to refer you to a counsellor who specialises in postnatal depression. Counsellors and other therapists can help you to work through problems and provide support throughout the transition.

Alternative treatments for depression: Many people manage depression with Mindfulness, meditation, exercise or different types of art therapy. Try to find what works for to cope with depression.

Remember, if you’re experiencing a tough time or are concerned about how you’re feeling, talk to someone. Sharing what you’re going through with someone you trust is the best thing for yourself and your baby.

You’re not alone, there is always help available. The feelings you’re experiencing are common with new mothers and with the right support you can conquer anything.

This article was last reviewed on 28 July 2017

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