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Postnatal depression

Expert reviewer, Dr Samantha Wild, General Practitioner, Bupa UK and Michelle Sheridan, Midwife, Bupa UK
Next review due August 2024

Postnatal depression is a type of depression that many people develop after having a baby. It can make you feel very low. But getting the right help and support will help you to feel much better.

A woman is holding her baby

What is postnatal depression?

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 and usually starts within three to 10 days after your baby is born. Baby blues usually pass off within a few days, without the need for treatment or additional support. Postnatal depression is more intense and lasts longer than the baby blues.

Postnatal depression is common – it affects between one and two in 10 women within a year of giving birth. You can get depression while you’re pregnant too. This is called antenatal or prenatal depression. You can also experience mental health problems if your partner is pregnant or has recently given birth.

Postnatal depression is an illness that can happen to anyone and it’s not something that’s your fault. But it can seriously affect you, your baby and your relationships. So if you think you might be depressed, it’s really important to get help as soon as possible from your midwife, health visitor or GP.

If you need help now

This page is designed to provide general health information. If you need help now, please use the following services.


If you think you might harm yourself or are worried someone else might come to immediate harm, call the emergency services on 999 or go to your local accident and emergency department.

Symptoms of postnatal depression

Postnatal depression symptoms start within a year of giving birth, often within a couple of months of having your baby. You’ll have symptoms most of the time, for two weeks or more. You may:

  • feel low and tearful much of the time
  • feel anxious or irritable
  • not enjoy things you normally do
  • feel guilty and worthless
  • find it hard to concentrate
  • feel exhausted and lacking in energy
  • have problems sleeping even when your baby is asleep
  • not want to see friends and family
  • lose your appetite or comfort eat
  • lack interest in your baby or partner, or have negative feelings towards them
  • have thoughts about harming yourself or your baby

Having a baby takes a lot of adjustment for anyone. But if you have postnatal depression, you may feel that you can’t cope and worry constantly about your baby. You may also feel detached from your baby and find it hard to bond with them.

Seeking help

If you think you may be depressed, tell your GP, health visitor or midwife. They won’t judge you – they’re used to helping women who have postnatal depression. They will be focused on getting you the help and support you need to feel better and look after your baby.

If you feel that you can’t look after your baby or are having thoughts about harming yourself or your baby, get urgent help. Either go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department or contact one of the services listed in our section: If you need help now. You can also call 999 if necessary.

Postpartum psychosis

After having a baby, about one to two in 1,000 people develop a rare and very serious form of depression called postpartum psychosis. If you have postpartum psychosis, you may:

  • feel really happy and excited then severely depressed – often with rapid mood swings
  • have hallucinations where you see or hear things that aren’t there or have delusions where you may believe things that aren’t true
  • feel confused and disorientated

The symptoms usually start within days or weeks of having a baby and come on quite suddenly. If you’re having any of these symptoms, contact your GP immediately so you can have an assessment and be treated as soon as possible. If you need to, go to your local A&E department or contact one of the services in our section: If you need help now.

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Diagnosis of postnatal depression

At your postnatal appointments, your midwife, health visitor or GP will usually ask you about your mental health and how you’re feeling. This is a good opportunity to tell them if you’re feeling low or depressed. You can also contact your health visitor or GP at any time if you need help for mental health problems. They’ll ask you some questions about how you’ve been feeling and talk to you about what help or support you might need.

Your health visitor or GP may be able to support you with your mental health and offer any treatments you need. Sometimes, they may suggest referring you to specialist mental health services. This might be perinatal mental health services (a specialist service for pregnant women and those with babies under a year old). Or it might be your local community mental health team. These specialist services are usually only needed if you have more severe postnatal depression.

Self-help

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

  • Talk to someone you trust such as your partner, a friend or family member about how you’re feeling. If they know what the problem is, they can support you in getting the help you need.
  • Sleep or rest whenever you get the chance. Try to get some rest while your baby sleeps, and if you can’t sleep, at least try to rest and relax.
  • Find local groups for new parents. Ask someone to go with you if you find it difficult at first.
  • Take up any offers of help with housework, cooking meals, shopping and childcare – don’t feel guilty about accepting support.
  • Make time for things you enjoy. If you can, try to spend time with your partner or friends.
  • Try to stick to a healthy balanced diet and regular meals, even if you don’t really feel like eating.
  • Get some regular exercise. Perhaps a parent-and-baby exercise class or just a walk in the fresh air.
  • You may find a self-help book or website useful. Ask your health visitor about these.
  • Don’t use alcohol or drugs to cope with your feelings – they will make your depression worse.
  • Get in touch with organisations that support parents with postnatal depression. For contact details, see our section: Other helpful websites.

The most important thing is to be kind to yourself — you’re going through a tough time. Do take help when it’s offered to you and remind yourself that things will get better with time.

Treatment of postnatal depression

Treatment options for postnatal depression include talking therapies and medicines. Which treatment is right for you will depend on several factors. These include how severe your postnatal depression is, if you’ve had depression before, and your personal preferences. Your doctor can explain what options are available and the benefits and risks of each. Together you can make a decision that’s right for you.

Talking treatments

Your doctor may suggest trying a type of talking therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT involves looking at how you think and behave in different situations and how you can change this for the better. Your doctor may suggest a guided self-help programme based on the principles of CBT. A professional trained in CBT will support you on this programme. There may be a computer or web-based programme you can do too. If you have more severe depression, they may offer you face-to-face CBT sessions.



Medicines

Your doctor may recommend you try antidepressant medicines instead of or as well as talking therapies. There are different types of antidepressant. They all work well for postnatal depression but they may have different side-effects. Tell your doctor if you’re breastfeeding because some antidepressants are thought to be safer for your baby than others. Your doctor will advise which medicines are best to take while you’re breastfeeding.

Antidepressants can take at least two weeks to start working and you may need to take them for several months. This helps to prevent your postnatal depression from returning after you start to feel better. Your doctor will advise you on how long to keep taking them.

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

Causes of postnatal depression

There’s rarely a single cause for depression – it’s most likely caused by a combination of several factors. 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 is demanding.

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

  • you’ve had mental health problems, including depression, in the past
  • you’ve had depression or anxiety during your pregnancy
  • you don’t feel that you have adequate support
  • you’re in an unhappy or unsupportive relationship
  • you’ve had a recent stressful life event – for example, a bereavement or you’ve lost your job
  • it took a long time for you to get pregnant
  • your partner is depressed
  • your pregnancy wasn’t planned
  • you have two or more children
  • you’re unemployed
  • you have a family history of postnatal depression
  • your baby was premature or has had health problems

But remember, you can become depressed without any of these. And if some of these factors apply to you, it doesn’t mean that you will get postnatal depression.

Supporting someone with postnatal depression

If your partner, friend or family member has postnatal depression, there’s a lot you can do to support them. Here are some suggestions.

  • Spend time with them, listen to them and don’t be dismissive about their worries. Although you may find it upsetting, try not to be shocked or disappointed in them – don’t blame them for how they’re feeling. Reassure them that they’ll get better.
  • Encourage them to talk to their health visitor or GP to get the help and support they need.
  • Offer practical help with the baby and with jobs such as cooking, housework and shopping.
  • They may just appreciate you spending time with them, so they don’t feel so isolated.
  • Try and arrange some time for them without their baby, so they can do something enjoyable just for themselves.
  • Encourage them to get out and meet with family and friends. Help them to find local groups for new parents or to speak to people who have had similar experiences.
  • Don’t be offended if they need some space. You can help by simply letting them know you’re thinking of them and are there if they need to talk to somebody.
  • If it’s your partner with postnatal depression, make sure you’re getting any support you need too.

Remember, parents with postnatal depression often find it hard to talk about it or even let others know what they’re feeling. You can help by reassuring them that it’s not their fault and that seeking help is the best thing they can do for themselves and their baby.

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Related information

  • Discover other helpful health information websites.

    • Postnatal depression. Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, published November 2018
    • Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health. Mind. mind.org.uk, published April 2020
    • Antenatal and postnatal mental health. Quality standard. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), February 2016. nice.org.uk
    • Depression in pregnancy. Tommy's. tommys.org, last reviewed 19 October 2018
    • VanderKruik R, Barreix M, Chou D, et al. The global prevalence of postpartum psychosis: a systematic review. BMC Psychiatry 2017; 17(1):272. doi:10.1186/s12888-017-1427-7
    • Antenatal and postnatal mental health: clinical management and service guidance. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). nice.org.uk, last updated 11 February 2020
    • Depression in adults: recognition and management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), October 2009. www.nice.org.uk
    • Antidepressant drugs. NICE British National Formulary (BNF). bnf.nice.org.uk, last updated 9 July 2021
    • Depression – antenatal and postnatal. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised August 2020
  • Reviewed by Pippa Coulter, Freelance Health Editor, August 2021
    Expert reviewer, Dr Samantha Wild, General Practitioner, Bupa UK and Michelle Sheridan, Midwife, Bupa UK
    Next review due August 2024

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