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5 things you may not have known about postnatal depression

Postnatal depression (or PND) is experienced by women after they have a baby. This depression can occur at any time after pregnancy, but usually develops in the first month – however, this is not a hard and fast rule and it can also occur later. 

1. It’s more common than you might think

Research estimates that PND affects one in ten mothers, but due to the difficulty in diagnosing it, the actual figure may be significantly higher than this. It affects women in different ways, and its duration also varies from person to person.
Symptoms of PND include the following:

  • Low mood for long periods
  • Feeling irritable
  • Panic attacks or a feeling of being trapped
  • Feeling overwhelmed or unmotivated
  • Lack of appetite and difficulty sleeping
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Lack of interest in your baby or yourself
  • Feelings of guilt or inadequacy

Many women keep these feelings a secret. It is very important to tell a family member or loved one how you feel if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms. 

Some women may experience some of these emotions as part of the ‘baby blues’ which occur about a week after birth, but if these feelings are troubling you deeply or for a long period of time, it may be PND. Discuss this with your GP if you’re concerned.

2. It frequently goes undiagnosed

Many of the symptoms of PND are mistaken by parents as being part and parcel of the newborn parenting experience at first, which leads to some women either receiving a delayed diagnosis or not being diagnosed at all. This is why it is important to open up about your feelings if you are struggling to cope.

One way to prevent your likelihood of developing PND is to assess yourself for risk factors before childbirth. These include:

  • Previous medical history, such as previous history with PND or depression
  • Individual circumstances, such as lack of family support or a colicky baby
  • Difficulties within your relationship
  • Labour complications or physical limitations post-delivery

Other ways to help are getting as much rest as possible, taking regular gentle exercise if possible and eating regularly. Do not try and do everything at once – go easy on yourself and set yourself realistic goals in the early weeks and months of minding your new little one.

3. It can affect men too 

While the majority of diagnosed cases of PND are in women, men also experience it. The birth of a new child can be a challenging time for both parents, and some men may experience the symptoms above – such as guilt, inability to cope, lack of motivation and significant periods of low mood.

4. You may experience frightening thoughts

Almost half of women with PND will experience some thoughts about harming their baby or themselves. It is extremely rare for women to act on these thoughts. However, if you or someone you know is experiencing these feelings, it is very important to contact your GP and discuss treatment, as it will be of benefit to you and your whole family.

5. PND is a serious issue

There are many myths about PND and a societal stigma around it as a result. PND is just as severe as other types of depression and will not go away on its own. It is not just a hormonal issue that will work itself out – PND may require different treatment pathways as decided by your doctor to alleviate the symptoms. Treatment may include options such as support from counsellors, doctors and social workers, or medication such as antidepressants or therapies such as CBT. 

If you’re concerned about yourself, a friend or loved one, contact your GP for advice. PND can be a difficult subject and a lonely challenge for women to overcome, but there is support and advice out there to help you through it. 

If you’re interested in more articles about pregnancy and parenthood, click here for further blog posts from Vhi.