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How to spot: postnatal depression

by Amanda Collins

Having a baby is an exciting, amazing and incredible thing. In those first 12 months, new mothers face a life altering array of changes, from the incredible hormones raging around their bodies, to sleep deprivation, and the wonder of a whole little human in their care.

This time can also be fraught with moodiness, sadness, worry and an overwhelming feeling of not doing it right, of failing.

These low feelings in the week or so after birth are often attributed to something called “the baby blues”, which around 80% of new mothers will experience.

But for some, this is not just the usual baby blues, it is in fact postnatal depression.

postnatal depression help

What is postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression is a type of depression that can happen to a mother at any time during the 12 months after she gives birth. Usually it develops in the first three months after birth.

The symptoms of postnatal depression can range from a mild feeling of sorrow, to crippling depression.

What causes postnatal depression?

The exact causes of postnatal depression are unknown. It affects around 1 in 7 to 10 mothers. It can happen to women who have had complication-free births, to those that have miscarried or had stillbirths, to those that have had caesareans and those that have given birth naturally.

There are some factors, however, that science think may make some women more vulnerable to postnatal depression. These are:


  • Having a history of depression or other mental health conditions.
  • Having a family history of mental health conditions.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Being a perfectionist.
  • Having experienced the loss of a child prior to having a baby.
  • Negative body image issues.
  • Having a negative experience of being parented.


  • Physical illness.
  • Extreme hormonal changes.
  • Sleep deprivation and exhaustion.
  • Having a baby early or late in life.
  • A negative birth experience.
  • Breastfeeding difficulties.
  • Substance abuse.


  • Unhappy or unhelpful relationship with partner, or having no partner.
  • A lack of support.
  • Feeling socially isolated.
  • Being discharged from hospital without adequate postnatal support.
  • Experiencing financial hardship.
  • Stressful life events.
  • A baby that is hard to settle, restless or unwell.

help for postpartum depression

How to spot postnatal depression

Postnatal depression affects the mind, body and emotions. A woman with postnatal depression can have a few or all of the symptoms below; while one woman’s experience will not necessarily look like another’s.

To be diagnosed with postnatal depression, you have to experience its symptoms for a period of two weeks or more.


  • A feeling of worthlessness, shame or inadequacy.
  • A hollow or empty feeling.
  • Loss of enjoyment in usual activities.
  • Anger, irritability and resentment.
  • Irrational fears, particularly regarding the baby or partner.
  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings.
  • Lack of self-esteem or confidence.
  • Anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Negative thoughts.
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Poor memory.
  • Sadness and tearfulness.
  • Mental fog or confusion.
  • Persistent low mood.
  • Thoughts of harming self or the baby.
  • Not feeling anything, or not feeling what they thought they would, towards the baby.


  • Broken, disturbed or complete lack of sleep (even when the baby is asleep).
  • Loss of appetite and weight.
  • Loss of libido after physical recovery.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Lack of energy and motivation.
  • Headaches or migraines.

What to do now

If you think you may be suffering from postnatal depression, find out more here.

Alternatively, if you think someone you know may be suffering with postnatal depression, find out where to get help here.

Are you interested in mental health?

Open Colleges’ Diploma of Counselling takes students through the fundamentals of mental health, and gives them the knowledge and skills to help people through their life struggles.

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