Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health
Explains postnatal depression and other perinatal mental health problems, including possible causes, treatments and support options. Also has information for friends and family, including support and advice for partners.
What is perinatal depression?
If you experience depression while you are pregnant or after giving birth, this may be known as:
- antenatal depression – while you are pregnant
- postnatal depression (PND) – during roughly the first year after giving birth
- perinatal depression – any time from becoming pregnant to around one year after giving birth.
Lots of people are aware of postnatal depression. But it is less known that many people experience antenatal depression, and some people may experience both.
The information on this page is about perinatal depression, so it is relevant if you are experiencing either antenatal or postnatal depression. It covers:
How you might feel
If you have perinatal depression, you might feel:
- down, upset or tearful
- restless, agitated or irritable
- guilty, worthless and down on yourself
- empty and numb
- isolated and unable to relate to other people
- finding no pleasure in life or things you usually enjoy
- a sense of unreality
- no self-confidence or self-esteem
- hopeless and despairing
- hostile or indifferent to your partner
- hostile or indifferent to your baby
- suicidal feelings.
I found it hard because whilst people talk about postnatal depression there is very little discussion of mental ill health in pregnancy and it's supposed to be such a joyful time.
How you might behave
If you have perinatal depression, you might find that you:
- lose concentration
- find it hard to sleep, even when you have the chance
- have a reduced appetite
- lack interest in sex.
Some of these experiences are common during pregnancy and after becoming a parent. But it's still important to mention them to your doctor if you're concerned you might be experiencing perinatal depression.
I felt selfish and guilty for feeling negative and low. This made me isolate myself further and compounded the problem.
This is most likely to be an antidepressant. If you have any concerns about taking medication, you can talk to your doctor or pharmacist. We also have information about taking antidepressants while pregnant or breastfeeding.
A combination of talking therapy and medication
Some people find that taking medication helps them feel stable enough to get the most out of a talking therapy. But other people find medication or talking therapies are more helpful on their own.
Sometimes there may also be long waiting lists for talking therapies in your area. Your doctor may offer you an antidepressant to help you while you wait for therapy.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
If you have very severe depression which doesn't respond to other treatments, your doctor may suggest electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT can work very quickly, so doctors may suggest that you have it shortly after giving birth. This is to help you care for and bond with your baby as soon as possible.
ECT can be used during pregnancy, but there may be concerns about giving you anaesthetic while pregnant. You can speak to your doctor about this.
See our page on treatments for depression for more information.
Whilst I was worried about getting PND, I wasn't expecting to become so unwell in pregnancy. It was a mixture of hormones, lack of medication, worries about giving birth and sickness in the first trimester that contributed to my illness.
Be kind to yourself
You might have many expectations for yourself as a parent, but none of us can meet all our expectations all the time.
Don't beat yourself up if you don't do something you planned to, or if you find yourself feeling worse again. Try to treat yourself as you would treat a friend, and be kind to yourself.
Keep a mood diary
This can help you keep track of any changes in your mood, and you might find that you have more good days than you think. This can also help you notice if any activities, places or people make you feel better or worse.
See our useful contacts page for links to online mood diaries, including mood tracking apps to use on your phone.
Look after your hygiene
When you're experiencing depression, it's easy for hygiene to not feel like a priority. But small things can make a big difference to how you feel. For example, you could take a shower and get dressed, even if you're not going out of the house.
Ask for help
Where possible, ask for and accept help from those around you. Practical and emotional support from family, friends and community can be vital in helping you to cope.
For more ideas, see our page on ways to look after your mental health when becoming a parent.
This information was published in April 2020. We will revise it in 2023.
References and bibliography available on request.
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