Post natal depression


This article on postnatal depression explores this common condition and the fears and myths that surround postnatal depression.

What is Postnatal Depression?

Postnatal depression is depression that is lasting, as opposed to the baby blues, which are typically short lived. It usually occurs shortly after the birth, although it may go unrecognised for quite some time. 10-15% of women have postnatal depression following a childbirth.

Who is at risk of getting postnatal depression?

Everyone is at risk of getting post natal depression. It is a mental condition that can affect all different people. Certain life events can trigger depression – it may be caused by a combination of a hormonal influence and a significant life event.

There are certain risk factors which can increase your chance of getting postnatal depression –

Depression in pregnancy or previously in your life, for example after a loss of a previous baby.

Social and financial problems

Isolation from family/whanau and friends, whether this is emotional or physical

Long labours and complicated births

Babies needing special care after the birth

Losing a baby or having a baby with an abnormality

Mothers whose babies have feeding problems and/or sleeping problems are more prone to postnatal depression.

How is postnatal depression diagnosed?

There is ultimately no objective diagnosis of postnatal depression. The diagnosis is usually made by a health professional, such as your family doctor or midwife, based upon symptoms or effects that the woman or her family/whanau report, which have lasted several weeks.

What are the usual symptoms of postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression can present differently from woman to woman and can change over time for each individual woman. The typical symptoms are –

Physical symptoms such as:

  • Change in appetite (increased or decreased)
  • Extreme tiredness to the extent of not being able to perform normal tasks of everyday living
  • Poor sleep patterns.
  • Changes in mood
  • Irritability
  • Low mood
  • Tearfulness
  • Lack of interest in sex, which can deepen relationship problems
  • Lack of ‘joie de vivre’

Expressing beliefs, such as:

  • Worthlessness
  • Inability to cope
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Undue anxiety
  • ‘not wanting to go on’

Some women also experience panic attacks (where the woman has all the physical symptoms of extreme fear, such as a pounding heart, loss of appetite, breathlessness) and she may develop phobias of going out or being confined in a space which she has never experienced before.

What treatments are available for postnatal depression?

Some women recover from postnatal depression without treatment. For some the condition is short lived; for others it may last several years.

The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand recommend that treatment is initiated as soon as possible, in order to increase your chances of a full and speedy recovery.

Medical treatments

Many women with post natal depression are treated with medication, such as:

  • Anti depressants
  • Tranquillizers

Medication will go through to your breast milk, therefore if you are still breast feeding your baby will have to be carefully observed.

Natural therapies to help postnatal depression

Some natural therapists may also offer treatment to help control post natal depression, for example:

  • Naturopaths
  • Massage therapists
  • Acupuncturists
  • Aromatherapists
  • Hypnotherapy

Ask the therapist how they will be able to help you and whether they are experienced in helping women with postnatal depression. Also ensure that any preparations are compatible with any prescribed medications you may also be taking and if you are breastfeeding, inform your natural therapist.

Psychological treatments

Many of these are accessible through the maternal mental health team, your doctor, or by private access:

  • Counselling
  • Individual or group psychotherapy
  • Education in conjunction with the family/whanau to learn how to support the woman through her recovery.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy.

Many women may use a combination of natural therapies, medication and psychotherapy in order to become well again.

How to care for myself or my family/whanau member with postnatal depression

The relationships of the woman with her family/whanau and friends may be affected by the depression. It may seem hard to reach her. Support is available from Maternal Mental Health in New Zealand and it’s free following referral from your doctor or midwife.

Sometimes post natal depression can be linked with alcohol and drug dependence. Seeking help for this is crucial in overcoming postnatal depression.

Many women have problems forming close, lasting relationships with their babies when they are suffering from postnatal depression. These women will be dependent upon other family members and close friends to support them while they learn to love their babies. Much of this will be in the form of practical help, enabling the mum to rest and sleep, as well as being well nourished herself.

Some women are at risk of having suicidal thoughts and may attempt suicide. Occasionally hospitalisation will be necessary to ensure the safety of the mother and baby. All attempts will be made by the maternal mental health team to keep mum and baby together.

Ensure that each day there is something to look forward to – a walk, an hour to unwind, a meal to enjoy with family and friends.

Just remember that if it were just a case of ‘pulling your socks up’ all women would do so. No one would choose to feel low and frightened. There is no shame in having a mental illness and seeking help will be the bravest and single most important thing that you will do.

Useful articles and resources on post natal depression

Click here for information on the Baby Blues.

You may want to consider hypnosis for post natal depression if you’re finding the baby blues are really starting to get you down but you feel like you can work your way through it with a little help.

For information on the rare condition of Postnatal psychosis, visit our article in this section.

Paula Skelton

Paula Skelton is a qualified NZ nurse and midwife, a midwifery & childbirth educator and the mum of three lovely girls.

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