Post Natal Depression (PND) affects around 15%-20% of women in the weeks after giving birth. Although it is a common disorder, only half of those affected seek medical help. The disorder frequently presents a low mood, but a mixture of changing low and "high" moods or elation is also common. These intense and prolonged mood changes should not be confused with the joyous experience of the birth, or the mild, short, limited "baby blues". However, "baby blues" lasting longer than a few days may be an indication of a more serious health problem.
Despite extensive and ongoing research into this form of depression, the exact cause is not entirely clear or straightforward. There is, however, considerable debate amongst professionals about this condition and a number of contributory factors are likely. See section on causes.
The symptoms are varied, but sleeplessness, loss of appetite, anxiety, panic attacks, and either marked over-activity or under-activity, are common. The mother may feel distressed or guilty, and may express unusual concerns about herself or her baby. In all, the mother can become so disorganised that she cannot properly care for herself or her baby.
It is important that prolonged "baby blues" and distressing symptoms (as described above) are reported to the family GP. Women should always attend for their six-week clinical check-up and report to their hospital doctor on how they are coping.
Mild symptoms may clear up spontaneously within days but medical treatments will be required for more severe symptoms, which may involve counselling and medication. The medication usually takes the form of non-addictive anti-depressant tablets which are taken usually for 6 months. A very small number of women wil need a brief hospital stay for more intensive treatment. If you feel you cannot cope, do not feel afraid to tell family or friends, your doctor or Community Health Nurse, that you need some help. Arranging a baby-sitter for a few hours, which would enable you to have a rest, may be invaluable. Try not to let housework take over your days and nights. Ask your husband / partner, family or a friend to help out. Your health and well-being is very important. You should eat a well-balanced diet, little and often, and drink plenty of fluids, especially if you are breast feeding.
If you had PND after your last baby, there will be a 1:5 chance of recurrence after the birth of your next baby. Being informed and knowing what help and treatments are available, helps with early identification and speedy resolution.