What is postnatal depression?

How do you know if you have PND, and what should you do if you think you're suffering from it?

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Having a baby is the happiest time of your life, right? While that may be the dreamy picture, in reality up to one in seven women suffer from postnatal depression (PND), which can make life a real struggle.

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PND is depression occurring within a year of childbirth. The symptoms often start within a month of giving birth, but it’s not unusual for it to take six months or longer for the signs to appear.

Being diagnosed can take a while because some symptoms may be put down to the physical strain of having a newborn. Also, it’s not something women like to talk about, and we think we should be able to snap out of it.

Why does PND happen?

No one is completely sure why PND occurs but, as with other types of depression, big-life events (whether good or bad) generally increase the risk. Added to this is the exhaustion of pregnancy, birth, looking after a newborn and hormonal swings.

What are the symptoms of PND?

Symptoms can vary but often include:

  • Tearfulness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Poor sleep
  • A feeling of being unable to cope
  • A change in appetite
  • Tiredness
  • A lack of enjoyment about life and your baby

While a lot of mums do suffer from some of these things (who hasn’t had periods of feeling tired all the time?), with PND the symptoms are numerous and persistent.

What about medication to treat PND?

In some cases antidepressants are needed. These work to get the chemical levels in your brain back to normal, and can be a fantastic help. They usually take three or more weeks to start working.

Once you’re feeling back to ‘normal’, your GP will usually aim to have you on them for four to six months, as this has been shown to help stop the depression returning.

Although the herb, St John’s Wort, is effective in mild depression, it shouldn’t be taken during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Like a prescribed drug, there are possible side effects, and it interacts with other tablets, such as the Pill.

Seeking help

For more info, log on to The Association for Post Natal Illness, or call the Depression Alliance on 0845 123 2320 or The Meet A Mum Association on 0845 120 3746.

Mum’s story

“I just felt so utterly alone”

“I suffered from PND right after my son was born. My health visitor put me in touch with my GP, who prescribed antidepressants and sent me on a course called ‘Breaking Free’, where I met a group of women in the same position as me. I was so relieved that I wasn’t alone, as PND made me think I was going mad. I’m off antidepressants now and feel well again, but for the time I had it, it was hell. I still have bad days, but they’re few and far between now.”

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Belle, 35, mum to Eddie, 20 months

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