Mothers and Fathers with Postnatal Depression (PND)

Postnatal Depression is a depressive illness, which affects between 10-15% of mothers and 1-3% of fathers. It can happen to any parent.

Having a baby is supposed to be a happy occasion, a reason to celebrate. It is also a life-changing experience, often the beginning of a new life stage for parents and grandparents. Adjustments are made to help ensure sufficient emotional and material resources are available to provide the child with nurturing and safety. Routines, life styles and responsibilities are impacted – meaning less time for oneself or the rest of the family and friends, different or less paid working hours and financial insecurity to mention just some issues parents can face. And, not surprisingly, they can take their toll: disrupted sleeping patterns, stress, anxiety, disagreements, arguments, dissatisfaction and isolation are not uncommon. 

In addition, if the delivery was difficult and traumatic, then a mother’s level of exhaustion and stress will be that much higher and could potentially leave unfulfilled expectations of what giving birth should have been like.

Therefore, it is understandable that both mother and father (along with other close relatives) can feel vulnerable, emotional, irritable, confused and frightened.


PND is different from Baby Blues, which can be experienced by over half of new mothers after the birth of their child. It tends to occur between day three and day five, when breast milk and hormonal changes start. Mothers can feel tearful and experience low mood, which often subsides after a couple of weeks.

The timing of PND can vary, but often starts one or two months after the baby’s birth. It can also start several months after the birth. Parents may not experience PND after every (or the first) pregnancy.

Many parents do not recognise they have PND and do not talk about their feelings to partners, family and friends. Early detection is important for fast and successful support to help alleviate the symptoms and increase the parent’s well being. 

Symptoms include:

  • High level of tiredness
  • Disturbed sleeping pattern, insomnia
  • Feeling depressed, sad and having a low mood
  • Frequent crying for no apparent reason
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Indecisiveness
  • High level of irritability
  • Loss of interest (including sexual)
  • Avoiding social contact
  • Having negative thoughts about oneself and the ability to look after the baby, low self confidence, feelings of guilt
  • Change in appetite
  • Increased anxiety about the baby’s well being, racing pulse, sweating, breathlessness
  • Resentment of the baby for having PND
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby
  • Fear of not loving the baby
  • In extreme cases, thoughts of self harm and suicide, or harming others (including the baby)
  • Some women find it difficult to maintain daily tasks and to look after themselves or the baby.

Another rare and more serious condition is Postnatal Psychosis, which is thought to affect one in every 1,000 women and has bipolar-like symptoms, with changing moods, having hallucinations and delusions often relating to the baby. As with the risk of harm of self and others, Postnatal Psychosis is regarded as an emergency, and a GP needs to be contacted immediately.


There appears to be no single reason and possible contributing factors can range from having had depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, lack of support, recent traumatic or stressful experiences (which can include unemployment, moving house, bereavement, separation, serious illness).


Currently, it is unclear whether PND can be prevented. The following suggestions for self help, self care and care by others can make a positive difference:

If you have PND:

  • Do not be unduly alarmed by the diagnosis.
  • Feel reassured, that what you feel is normal, not shameful and does not make you a bad parent.
  • Tell someone how you feel.
  • You are not alone in feeling like this and reaching out to other parents, a GP, midwife or health visitor can facilitate help from support groups in your area or online forums.
  • Go to antenatal classes.
  • Ask others for help.
  • Rest as much as you can.
  • Reprioritise housework and other commitments where you can.
  • Have regular meals.
  • Have at least some regular light exercise.
  • Spend at least 5-10 minutes a day doing something that you like, even if it is a cup of tea with a paper or magazine.

How partners, family and friends can help

  • Make sure you understand what PND is about.
  • Do not reject, criticise or judge the person with PND.
  • Offer practical help.
  • Be prepared to listen and offer encouragement to the person with PND.
  • Seek urgent assistance if the person talks about harming themselves or others.
  • Try not to feel resentful if you get less attention than before.
  • Ensure you have support yourself.

Counselling, psychotherapy or talking therapies can also offer an opportunity to talk about how you feel with someone who is independent. This can assist in reducing the level and intensity of PND by focusing on any negative thinking patterns and fears you may have.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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