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Postnatal depression

Depression after having a baby can be extremely distressing. It affects around 1 in 10 women (and up to 4 in 10 teenage mothers).

Many women suffer in silence and their friends, relatives and health professionals don't always know how they're feeling.

Postnatal depression usually occurs 2 to 8 weeks after the birth, although sometimes it can happen up to a year after the baby is born.

Symptoms such as tiredness, irritability or poor appetite are normal if you've just had a baby. But these are usually mild and don't stop you leading a normal life.

If you have postnatal depression, you may feel increasingly depressed and despondent. Looking after yourself or your baby may become too much. Other signs of postnatal depression are:

  • anxiety    
  • panic attacks
  • sleeplessness
  • extreme tiredness
  • aches and pains
  • feeling generally unwell
  • memory loss or being unable to concentrate
  • feelings of not being able to cope
  • not being able to stop crying
  • loss of appetite
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • not being able to enjoy anything
  • loss of interest in the baby
  • excessive anxiety about the baby

Getting help for postnatal depression

If you think you have postnatal depression, don’t struggle alone. It's not a sign that you're a bad mother or are unable to cope. Postnatal depression is an illness and you need to get help, just as you would if you had the flu or a broken leg.

Talk to someone you trust, such as your partner or a friend. Or ask your health visitor to visit you. Many health visitors have been trained to recognise postnatal depression and know techniques that can help. If they can't help, they'll know someone who can.

It's also important to see your GP. If you don’t feel up to making an appointment, ask someone to do it for you.

Treatment

Milder cases of postnatal depression can be treated with counselling. This can be given by the health visitor or a therapist. More severe cases often require antidepressants and you may need to see a specialist.

It's important to let your GP know if you're breastfeeding. If you need to take antidepressants, they'll prescribe a type of medication that is suitable.

You may also find it helpful to contact the Association for Post-Natal Illness or the National Childbirth Trust.

Your local Children's Centre can put you in touch with your nearest postnatal group. These groups provide contact with other new mothers and encourage them to support each other. They also offer social activities and help with parenting skills.

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