Cookies on the Bupa website

We use cookies to help us understand ease of use and relevance of content. This ensures that we can give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive cookies for this purpose. Find out more about cookies

Continue

Navigation

Postnatal depression

Postnatal depression is a type of depression that some women develop after having a baby. At a time when everyone expects you to be feeling happy, you may be feeling very low. The good news is that, with help and support, postnatal depression can be treated successfully.

More than one in 10 women gets postnatal depression, which often starts within one or two months of giving birth. However, it can start several months after having a baby. For some women, their depression starts while they are pregnant.

It’s very common to feel overwhelmed, tearful and low for a few days after your baby is born – this is sometimes called the ‘baby blues’. Baby blues usually start two or three days after your baby is born and are over within two weeks. But postnatal depression is more than the ‘baby blues’.

Postnatal depression can be treated successfully, but if left untreated it can cause serious problems with the relationships you have with your baby and partner. So it’s really important that you seek help from your GP if you think you may be depressed.

Anxious woman

Details

  • Symptoms Symptoms of postnatal depression

    Postnatal depression has many symptoms similar to depression at other times of life. However, these symptoms start within the first year after your baby is born. 

    It’s common for women to dismiss their feelings, or hide them through fear of being labelled a bad mum.

    You may feel unable to get into a routine or cope with your baby. You may also feel detached from your baby, and not able to bond with them. If you have postnatal depression, you may worry constantly, thinking that something bad will happen to you or your baby. 

    It’s very rare for women with postnatal depression to harm their babies, but out of desperation or tiredness you may worry that you’re going to. Mums and dads who don’t have postnatal depression can feel like this sometimes too.

    Other symptoms may include: 

    • feeling low in mood and tearful
    • not enjoying your usual activities
    • losing your appetite or comfort eating
    • tiredness and a lack of energy
    • feelings of guilt and worthlessness
    • problems concentrating
    • problems sleeping
    • not wanting to see friends and family
    • loss of interest in sex

    These symptoms aren’t always caused by postnatal depression, but if you have them, see your GP. 

    There’s a very serious form of depression that may occur after having a baby, called postpartum psychosis. It’s rare, affecting about one in 1,000 women. Your mood may be high or low and there may be rapid swings in mood. You may have hallucinations where you see or hear things that aren’t there. You may believe things that aren’t true (delusions). You may feel out of contact with reality, and show out of character behaviour. The symptoms usually start within a month of having a baby.

    Postpartum psychosis is a serious condition. If you’re having any of these symptoms you need to alert your GP immediately. This is so you can be assessed and any necessary treatment started as soon as possible. And similarly, if you suspect that someone close to you is having these symptoms, alert their GP. Effective treatments for postpartum psychosis are available.

  • Diagnosis Diagnosis of postnatal depression

    Some women feel bewildered or ashamed of their symptoms and put off getting help. However, it’s important you get help, and it’s the best thing you can do for your baby. If left untreated, postnatal depression can damage your relationships with your baby and partner. It can also affect your baby’s development. The important thing to remember is that postnatal depression can be treated. 

    Your midwife, health visitor or GP will often ask you about your mental health and how you’re feeling. They may ask you the following questions.

    • During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
    • During the past month, have you often been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things? 

    Depending on your answers they may also ask:

    • is this something you feel you need or want help with? 

    Your GP may use another questionnaire called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. This has 10 simple questions for you to answer and a scoring system.

    Rarely, some mothers develop postpartum psychosis (see our section on symptoms above). This requires immediate treatment in hospital under the care of a psychiatrist (a doctor who specialises in mental health). Sometimes treatment can be provided in a specialised mother and baby unit, so that your baby can stay with you. However, this isn’t always possible – the important thing is to get effective treatment early.

  • Treatment Treatment of postnatal depression

    Remember that many people get postnatal depression and you will get better in time. For most women postnatal depression usually lasts about three to six months, but a few women still have it after a year. 

    The type of help and treatment you need will depend on how severe your postnatal depression is, and whether you’ve had depression before. If your depression is mild, then it may get better without treatment but with support from your family, friends and health professionals. Your GP or health visitor can tell you what help and support is available. 

    If you have postpartum psychosis, you may be admitted to hospital for treatment. Ideally this will be to a mother and baby unit so your baby can stay with you.

    Self-help

    There are many things you can do to help yourself cope with postnatal depression. Here are some suggestions. 

    • Don’t bottle up your feelings. Talk to your partner, friends or family. Or tell your health visitor or GP how you’re feeling.
    • Sleep or rest whenever you can – get some rest while your baby sleeps.
    • Eat a healthy balanced diet, even if you don’t really feel like eating.
    • Get some regular exercise. Perhaps a mother and baby exercise class, or just a walk in the fresh air.
    • Find local groups for new mothers. Ask someone to go with you if you find it difficult at first.
    • Accept offers of help with housework, shopping and childcare.
    • Get in touch with organisations that support women with postnatal depression. See our resources section below for contact details.
    • You may find a self-help manual useful. Ask your health visitor about these. 

    Be kind to yourself – you’re going through a tough time. And try not to blame others or take it out on your partner and family who are supporting you.

    Talking treatments 

    There are two main talking therapies that can be used to treat mild or moderate postnatal depression.

    • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT looks at how you think about a situation and how you act and how both of these things can affect each other. You will work with a therapist to change the way you think about things and how you behave.
    • Interpersonal counselling. This focuses on how your relationships work and helps you to understand how this may be connected to your depression. 

    Medicines

    If you have severe postnatal depression, your doctor may prescribe antidepressant medicines. They may also offer antidepressants if you have mild or moderate depression and other treatments haven’t worked or you prefer not to have talking therapies. You can have talking therapies at the same time as taking antidepressants. 

    There are several types of antidepressant available. There are side-effects to consider, and some may work better for you than others. You and your doctor will decide which medicine is right for you.

    Some antidepressants take at least two weeks to start working and you may need to take them for several months. To help prevent your postnatal depression returning, your doctor may advise you to keep taking them for some time once you start to feel better. 

    If you’re breastfeeding, make sure your doctor knows that. Small amounts of the medicine can be passed on to your baby through your breast milk. Some antidepressants are thought to be safer for your baby than others. Your doctor will advise which medicines are safe to take while you’re breastfeeding.

    Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine carefully. If you have any queries about your medicines or how to take them you can ask your pharmacist.

  • Private GP appointments

    With our GP services, we aim to give you an appointment the next day, subject to availability. Find out more today.

  • Causes Causes of postnatal depression

    There’s rarely a single cause for depression and several factors usually work together. Postnatal depression can happen to anyone and it’s important to know that it’s not your fault. Having a baby is a huge life change. Adjusting to the extra responsibility of looking after a totally dependent infant can be demanding.

    There are many factors which affect your chance of getting postnatal depression. You’re more likely to get it if: 

    • you’ve had mental health problems, including depression before
    • you’ve had depression or anxiety during pregnancy
    • you’ve had the ‘baby blues’
    • you aren’t getting the support that you need
    • you’ve had a recent stressful life event, for example bereavement, or losing your job

    You may also be more likely to develop postnatal depression if: 

    • it took a long time for you to conceive
    • the father of your baby is depressed
    • your pregnancy wasn’t planned
    • you’re not breastfeeding
    • you have two or more children
    • you’re unemployed

    But remember, you can become depressed without having any of these causes. And just because you have some of these factors doesn’t mean that you’ll get postnatal depression.

  • FAQ: Dads and postnatal depression Do dads get postnatal depression?

    Yes, it seems that dads can also feel depressed after the birth of a baby. Studies suggest that around one in five men may be affected. Postnatal depression in dads is more likely if the mum has postnatal depression.

    More information

    If you’re a new dad you might develop postnatal depression for similar reasons that a new mother may. These include having poor support from family and friends, and coping with recent major life events like a job loss or bereavement. You may also be struggling with the extra responsibility, money worries or the changing relationship with your partner. See our section on causes of postnatal depression above. 

    If you’re depressed, it can affect your relationship with your partner and your baby in the same way that postnatal depression in a mother can.

    If you think you have the symptoms of depression, speak to your GP. Symptoms include a lack of energy, feelings of guilt and worthlessness or problems concentrating or sleeping. Our section above on treatment (including self-help) will be relevant to you. And see our resources section below for information about organisations which could help.

  • FAQ: How long does it last? How long does postnatal depression last?

    Most women with postnatal depression will get better without any treatment within three to six months. However, around one in four women may still feel depressed after a year.

    If left untreated, postnatal depression can have a long term and harmful effect on your relationship with your baby and partner. It can also affect how your baby develops. So don’t suffer in silence. If you think you have postnatal depression, talk to your GP or health visitor about getting support and treatment as soon as possible.

  • FAQ: Effects on your child Will postnatal depression affect my child?

    If you have postnatal depression you may not be able to look after your baby as well as you would if you were well. You may find it hard to interact with, or respond to your baby in a positive way. 

    We know that this can affect your child’s development in both the short and the long term. Having a parent with postnatal depression can affect a child’s social relationships and behaviours, how they develop at school and their emotional development.

    So ask for help and support from your GP or health visitor if you think you might have postnatal depression. By getting help for yourself quickly you’ll be doing the best for your baby.

  • FAQ: Helping someone with postnatal depression I think my partner has postnatal depression - how can I help?

    You may be concerned that your partner or someone you care about has postnatal depression. Have a look at our section on symptoms of postnatal depression above for things to look out for.

    If someone you care about has postnatal depression there’s a lot you can do to support her. Here are some suggestions.

    • Encourage her to talk to her health visitor or GP, and to follow their advice. Postnatal depression is treatable.
    • Spend time with her, listen to her and don’t be dismissive about her worries. Reassure her that she’ll get better.
    • Offer practical help with the baby, and with jobs such as cooking, housework and shopping.
    • Try and arrange some time for her without the baby, doing something enjoyable just for her.
    • Encourage her to get out and meet with family and friends. Help her find local groups for new mums.
    • If you’re her partner, try not to feel resentful if you’re getting less attention from her. She needs your help and support.

    Remember, women with postnatal depression often find it hard to talk about it, or even let others know what they are feeling. You can help by reassuring her that it’s not her fault. Help her realise that seeking help is the best thing she can do for herself and the baby.

  • Other helpful websites Other helpful websites

    Further information

    Sources

    • Postnatal depression. BMJ Best practice. bestpractice.bmj.com, last updated 5 February 2016
    • Postnatal depression. PatientPlus. patient.info/patientplus, last checked 23 February 2015
    • Depression – antenatal and postnatal. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised September 2015
    • Depression. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised October 2015
    • Antenatal and postnatal mental health: clinical management and service guidance. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2014. www.nice.org.uk
    • Management of perinatal mood disorders. Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN), 2012. www.sign.ac.uk
    • Mood disorders during pregnancy and after the birth of your baby. Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network, 2012. www.sign.ac.uk
    • Reproductive psychiatry, sexual dysfunction, and sexuality. Oxford handbook of psychiatry (online). Oxford Medicine Online. www.oxfordmedicine.com, published March 2013
    • Map of Medicine. Perinatal mental health. International View. London: Map of Medicine; 2016 (Issue 1)
    • Postnatal depression. Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, updated April 2014
    • Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health. MIND. www.mind.org.uk, published July 2016
  • Has our information helped you? Tell us what you think about this page

    We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.

    Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
    Ask us a question
  • Related information Related information

  • Author information Author information

    Reviewed by Dr Kristina Routh, Freelance Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, October 2016
    Expert reviewer, Dr Gabrielle Pendlebury, Consultant Psychiatrist
    Next review due October 2019

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.

  • Information Standard

    We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.

    Information standard logo
  • HONcode

    This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
    verify here.

    This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

What our readers say about us

But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.

Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.

It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.

Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.

Meet the team

Nick Ridgman

Nick Ridgman
Head of Health Content







  • Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
  • Graham Pembrey - Lead Editor
  • Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
  • Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor, Content Library
  • Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor, Insights (on Maternity Leave)
  • Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
  • Michelle Harrison – Specialist Editor, Insights

Our core principles

All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.

An image showing or editorial principals

                  Click to open full-size image

The ‘3Rs’ encompass everything we believe good health information should be. From tweets to in-depth reports, videos to quizzes, every piece of content we produce has these as its foundation.

Readable

In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.

Reliable

We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.

Relevant

We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.

Our accreditation

Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.

  • The Information Standard certification scheme

    You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.

    It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.

    Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.

  • British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards

    We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.

Contact us

If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: healthinfo@bupa.com. Or you can write to us:

Health Content Team
Battle Bridge House
300 Grays Inn Road
London
WC1X 8DU

Find out more Close

Legal disclaimer

This information was published by Bupa's Health Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.

The information contained on this page and in any third party websites referred to on this page is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor is it intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment. Third party websites are not owned or controlled by Bupa and any individual may be able to access and post messages on them. Bupa is not responsible for the content or availability of these third party websites. We do not accept advertising on this page.

For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the 'About our health information' section.

ˆ We may record or monitor our calls.