One of the most important times in any woman’s life is the birth of a new born baby. For a large number of mothers, however, this time is spoiled by the dark cloud of postnatal depression. Although there are no exact statistics about how many women are affected, the best estimates are that post natal depression affects to some degree between 1 in 4 new mothers.

Even using the most conservative of these figures, it’s clear that post natal depression, or PND, is an issue which affects millions of mothers worldwide. Despite this, there are a large amount of myths and misconceptions which surround the topic.

What causes post natal depression?

The exact causes of post natal depression are unknown. What has been established is that there are a variety of factors which put women more at risk of developing PND than other women who have also recently given birth.

Factors which are thought to increase the likelihood of developing post natal depression include:

  • Previous history of mental health problems or depression
  • Unstable relationship or worries about the relationship
  • Health problems during the pregnancy or a traumatic delivery
  • Poor diet with a lack of nutrients
  • Lack of self confidence from weight gain over pregnancy
  • Lack of support from partner and close family
  • Anxiety about caring for the baby and coping on a day to day basis
  • Financial worries
How do I know if I am developing post natal depression?

It is very common for women to be tearful and feel “down” in the days immediately after the birth. This period, often called Baby Blues, is attributed to the plummeting post-pregnancy hormone levels and passes within a couple of days. Just because a woman suffers from the Baby Blues does not mean she will go on to develop post natal depression.

For many women, the slide into post natal depression is a slow process and they may be unaware of how different they have become. It is often partners or close family members who recognize what is happening and make the initial suggestion that the mother could be suffering from depression. Some of the classic symptoms of post natal depression are:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Being irritable or snappy with loved ones
  • Feeling low, despondent or as if there is no hope for the future
  • A feeling of being overwhelmed or as if everything is too much to cope with
  • Constant tiredness or insomnia
  • Lack of interest in the baby
  • Crying, or feeling on the verge of tears for much of the time
  • Anxiety about being left alone, or going out alone
  • Loss of appetite

Many of these symptoms, especially chronic tiredness, are extremely common in new mothers and just being tired and cranky does not make you depressed. But if several of the symptoms are ringing bells, it may be that it is time to seek help with your depression.

What can women do to get better?

Firstly, it is important to recognize the problem and admit how you are feeling to your partner, close family member or family doctor. One of the main concerns of mothers is that by admitting they are depressed, they will somehow get a reputation as a bad mother and their baby will be taken away. This is not the case.

Depending on the severity of the depression, there are several treatments which are known to be effective. For less severe cases, all that might be required is increasing the support available to the mother from both people close to her, and health professionals. Talking through the feelings and knowing that people are listening and understanding is of enormous benefit, as is attending groups with other mothers in the same position.

For more severe cases, a doctor may recommend medication such as anti-depressants in addition to the practical support and support groups mentioned above. Many modern anti-depressants are compatible with breastfeeding, and can help life the mother’s mood enough to allow her to begin to cope with day to day life. The prescription will be regularly reviewed with an aim of getting the mother off the anti-depressants as soon as possible.

In very severe cases of post natal depression, the best treatment may be admission to hospital for treatment. This is rare, as most cases are managed in the community. Many hospitals have special units where the mother and baby can stay together while the mother is being treated.

Preventing post natal depression

There are several things that pregnant women and women who have recently given birth can do to reduce their risks of developing post natal depression once their baby is born. There is no absolute guarantee, but taking a few simple steps can help lessen the risk. Some of the simple things which can be done are:

  • Try to eat a healthy balanced diet packed full of nutrients and cut out junk food
  • Speak to your doctor or midwife about any previous episodes of depression or anxiety, even if they were many years in the past
  • Cut down on alcohol consumption
  • Try to eat regularly, as low blood sugar levels can hugely affect mood
  • Keep talking about how you are feeling to your partner, friends and family
  • Get out into the fresh air and take gentle exercise, even if it is just a stroll to the shops or park
  • Try to rest and relax as much as possible

PND is a common condition among new mothers and although it can be debilitating, taking steps during pregnancy and after the birth to counteract its effects can be of huge benefit.