Postnatal depression (PND)

Postnatal depression (PND) affects around 10% of mothers. This is much more serious than the post-birth period, typically known as the ‘baby blues’, which usually lasts between one to three days. PND can develop slowly and may not be noticeable until several weeks after the baby’s birth, or may continue on from the baby blues period.

What is PND?

PND is a form of depression that women may experience within the first year of giving birth. 

Sadly, many mothers experience severe depression without recognising it as a treatable illness. This can result in the mother suffering needless distress which may also affect her family, friends and relationship with her baby. If a mother can recognise her condition, then she can seek medical help at an earlier stage of the illness.

Symptoms of PND

Most symptoms of PND start during the first year after the birth of your baby. These usually occur within three months of the birth and are similar to symptoms of depression at other times in life. Symptoms of PND include:

  • Sad mood
  • Tearfulness
  • Feeling unable to cope
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Tension
  • Tiredness though difficulty sleeping
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Appetite issues – loss of appetite or comfort eating
  • Lack of energy

In more severe cases, you may have distressing thoughts about harming your baby, or even suicide. It is very rare for women with PND to harm their babies, but you feel so desperate that you can worry about what you may do. Some mothers who don’t even have PND sometimes have these feelings. Unfortunately whichever symptoms are experienced, it is common to dismiss these feelings or hide them, as you may worry that they will cause you to be viewed as a bad mother.

What are the causes of PND?

There may be several factors which can cause PND. The drop in hormones after childbirth has been thought to cause PND however, research shows no significant difference in hormone levels of women with PND and those without, plus treatment of hormones has not been effective.

alcohol addiction quoteThe causes are more likely to be due to the overwhelming life changes that a new baby brings. Some babies cry more than others and this can be extremely difficult to cope with - it cannot be underestimated how demanding a responsibility it is to look after a baby who is totally dependent on you. You are more likely to get PND if:

  • You have suffered depression or PND before or experienced the ‘baby blues’
  • Any members of your family have suffered from depression or PND
  • You have a difficult relationship with your partner who you cannot discuss your feelings with
  • You don’t receive much assistance from family or friends
  • You have experienced other stressful events recently e.g. bereavement
  • You or your partner have financial worries

As you focus all of your energy on looking after your baby, you will probably find that your relationship with your partner changes. You may be less interested in sex which could cause a strain on the relationship. If you have stopped work, your social life and income may have decreased and this could add to the depression.

Treatment of PND

It is important to recognise that PND is curable. With the right help, treatment and support, you will be able to achieve a full recovery. Your GP can arrange counselling and psychotherapy – some local practices have their own counsellor. Another type of psychotherapy that is commonly used in the treatment of PND is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

How does CBT work in the treatment of PND?

CBT tackles your negative thoughts and helps people to think in a more balanced way, challenging a person’s assumptions about their lives. It aims to identify and change aspects of behaviour that may cause or prolong symptoms of PND. By helping you to change the way that you think about life, you'll be able to accept failures more easily and take credit for your achievements. CBT aims to give you skills for life, reducing the likelihood of you becoming depressed again.

How Priory can help to treat PND

Priory has specialist professionals who offer a service for new mothers suffering from mental health problems and who require professional support and guidance. We aim to foster development of the relationship between you and your and child and to promote an understanding of the illness through parenting skills education and therapy. Where possible, we will involve family members in the treatment programme.

Mental wellbeing outcome

Our multidisciplinary team provides the highest standards of care, understanding and service for each and every one of or patients. Our service brings hope and confidence, allowing our patients to take control of their lives within a safe and secure environment.

For further details on how Priory can provide you with further assistance regarding Postnatal depression (PND), please call 0800 840 3219. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

More Info

If prescribed, how long will antidepressants take to work?

Antidepressants take time to have an effect, often a number of weeks, because they're helping nerve cells to recover and resume their usual role in regulating mood.

Are antidepressants dangerous?

Antidepressants are not dangerous, so long as you take them as prescribed. They are not addictive and can relieve your depression effectively.

What you can do to help yourself?

Self-help can make a difference. Joining a self-help group is a great way to discover that you are not alone and are not the only one to suffer from self-blame, rage and despair. Try to eat regularly and have a good diet, including fresh fruit and vegetables. Exercise will help to relieve stress and tension, whether this is aerobic exercise such as jogging or more relaxing exercise such as yoga.

Please remember the following:

  • PND is an illness, and does not mean that you are a bad mother
  • Treatment is effective and there are many treatment options available
  • There is a suitable treatment option for every person
  • The aim of treatment is to get 100% well and stay well

Family support

Family should understand that the illness is temporary and that with their help and support, a full recovery can be expected. This may take some time before you are completely better. Try to get help around the house and ask them to babysit whilst you take a break.

Finding help

Many women feel ashamed or worried about their symptoms, which can prevent them from seeking help immediately. Contacting your GP is often the easiest way to get help and further treatment. He or she may offer you counselling or referral to a specialist for further assessment. This may lead to outpatient treatment or, if your condition is more serious, day or inpatient treatment.

If you're worried about talking to your GP, consider writing down your concerns and questions. You can:

  • Take a friend or family member with you
  • See another doctor in the practice
  • Join a new GP practice

The type of professional support offered will depend on the services that are available in your area and the arrangements that your primary care trust (PCT) have with other health authorities or private providers. Treatment for PND is also available privately through Priory.

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