Articles - How to Spot Postnatal Depression
Taking care of your mental health after birth

How to Spot Postnatal Depression


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Taking care of your mental health after birth

This article is shared with permission from PANDA

Many new parents find that one of the greatest challenges they face is knowing what is ‘normal’ and what is not. This applies to understanding their own wellbeing as well as their baby’s. Many new parents believe high levels of distress or unhappiness is a normal part of being a new sleep-deprived parent. They are often told by well-meaning family and friends that feelings of exhaustion, worry or unhappiness are normal – when these feelings might in fact indicate postnatal anxiety or depression

It is actually difficult to learn how to be a parent, and about the needs and behaviours of a new baby. Especially when you are feeling sore, exhausted and perhaps even distressed by your birth experience. If you are struggling to understand your thoughts or feelings and it is affecting your day-to-day activities it is important to seek support. In particular, if your symptoms last more than two weeks, we encourage you to seek help.

When anxiety or depression begins sometime in the year after birth it is referred to as postnatal anxiety or postnatal depression.

More than 1 in 7 new mums and up to 1 in 10 new dads experience postnatal depression. Postnatal anxiety is just as common, and many parents experience both anxiety and depression at the same time. Postnatal anxiety and depression can be a frightening and isolating experience as parents try to deal with their symptoms at the same time as needing to care for a new baby, and sometimes other children as well. There are treatments, supports and services available to help you through this experience and it is important to know the signs and symptoms, and to seek help early.

There is another form of mental illness that can affect women after birth: postnatal psychosis. Postnatal psychosis is an extremely serious mental health condition that affects one to two women in every 1000 after childbirth. Postnatal psychosis can be a potentially life-threatening condition that can put both mother and baby at risk so if you suspect you or your partner are experiencing this illness, please seek help immediately. 

"My main trigger was a loss of control of our routine. I would panic inwardly if there were sudden changes i.e. visitors, illness." 

Symptoms of Postnatal Anxiety & Depression

The severity of postnatal anxiety and depression depends on the number of symptoms, their intensity and the extent to which they interfere with getting on with day-to-day life. The combination and severity of symptoms will be different for every parent but might include:

  • Panic attacks (a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
  • Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health, wellbeing or safety of the baby
  • The development of obsessive or compulsive thoughts and/or behaviours
  • Abrupt mood swings
  • Feeling constantly sad, low, or crying for no obvious reason
  • Being nervous, ‘on edge’, or panicky
  • Feeling constantly tired and lacking energy
  • Having little or no interest in all the normal things that bring joy (like time with friends, exercise, eating, or sharing partner time)
  • Sleeping too much or not sleeping very well at all
  • Losing interest in intimacy
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Being easily annoyed or irritated
  • Feeling angry
  • Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember (people with depression often describe this as a ‘brain fog’)
  • Engaging in more risk taking behavior (e.g. alcohol or drug use)
  • Having thoughts of harming your baby
  • Having thoughts of death or suicide.

Everyone’s Experience is Different

We know that everyone experiences antenatal anxiety and depression differently. The way it can affect you depends on a range of factors, from your own physical, emotional and mental make up to external factors that might be having an impact. It's also possible for men and partners to experience postnatal anxiety.

There are also different degrees of the illness. Some people experience milder symptoms of antenatal anxiety or depression, while others have more severe symptoms. The common factor is that the illness is affecting your ability to enjoy your baby and potentially impacting your ability to function at all. If you think this might be you, then please seek support as soon as possible.

Depression & anxiety during pregnancy (antenatal) is also a reality for many women. Read our article about identifying symptoms and managing your mental health while pregnant here.

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