Understanding and managing postnatal depression

This article aims to discuss how to manage and understand postnatal depression. I will explore how PND differs from the ‘baby blues’, its possible causes and common signs. I will also look at fathers and how PND can affect them, as well as how therapy can assist in managing the symptoms of PND.

The baby blues

Giving birth to a new child is generally considered a time of joy and happiness for most new parents, and for the most part this is true. However many new mothers will experience a short period where they feel emotional and teary, and some may not experience joy or happiness straight away. It is common for parents to experience a period exhaustion, shock and stress following the birth of their baby. This initial period of adjusting to the life-changing event of having a baby can be referred to as the ‘baby blues’. This usually occurs three to 10 days after birth. This is in fact so common that it is considered to be normal. New fathers may also experience this, and although it can be distressing, it is important to be aware that it doesn’t last long, and is generally quite manageable.

What Is postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression usually begins within the first six weeks of the birth of a child and is very common, affecting one in 10 women. It has also been shown that men are also prone to experience PND, however it is far less frequent, affecting around one in 28 men. PND is more serious than the baby blues, and involves prolonged periods of much deeper depression and sadness after the birth of a child.

PND usually develops within six weeks of the birth of a new child and affects around 10 to 15 per cent of new mothers. The onset of postnatal depression can happen gradually or out of nowhere and can range from relatively mild to severe depending on the individual, their past experiences, and a number of other factors.

What causes post natal depression?

There are no definite causes for PND, but it usually occurs due to a combination of factors that are brought to focus either during or after the birth of a child. Some research has shown that PND arises due to biological reasons, which can be brought about by the changes in the body, including hormonal changes. However, research has shown that changes in the levels of hormones during pregnancy and after birth can trigger changes in mood, only women go on to develop PND, meaning that hormones are unlikely the sole cause of PND.

The symptoms of PND can be similar to general depression, but as discussed above, these symptoms will vary in intensity for each individual. Becoming emotionally withdrawn, feeling overwhelmed, and experiencing feelings of despair, guilt or worthlessness is common for those suffering from PND. It is common for sleeping and eating patterns to be noticeably changed, and a lack of interest in everyday life and even in the baby may develop.

The general consensus brought about through research shows that you are more likely to experience PND if you have:

  • Previous mental health difficulties, including depression.

  • A lack of support network, family or friends.

  • Experience of abuse in your past.

  • Low self-esteem.

  • Poverty and poor living conditions.

  • Major life events, such as the death of a loved one.

Common signs Of postnatal depression

How you may feel

  • Sad, or persistently low in mood.

  • Feeling tearful without an apparent explanation.

  • Hopeless about the future.

  • Exhausted.

  • Feel unable to cope.

  • Hostile or indifferent to your partner.

You may find that you

  • Lose concentration.

  • Have disturbed sleep.

  • Find it hard to sleep even when you have the chance to.

  • Have reduced appetite.

  • Think about death, self harm or suicide.

  • Difficulty concentrating.

  • Have a lack of interest in intimacy or sex.

  • Increased isolation from others or social events.

Fathers and postnatal depression

Only women can be formally diagnosed with PND, however studies have shown that fathers also experience depression after the birth of a child, and that in fact between one and four per cent of men experience depression during the first year after the birth of their child. Some men are more likely to experience PND than others. Factors such as age or being unemployed or on lower income when the baby is born can increase the risk of PND for men.

Young men may experience PND more than others due to feeling less able to manage fatherhood. Another reason could be if the mother is highly anxious, stressed or depressed, which could add to the likelihood of men experiencing PND. Other possible causes could be the change in lifestyle, the added cost or the changed relationship with their partner, due to their child being born.

Self help and therapy

You may feel you will have your baby taken away from you if you admit to feeling depressed, anxious or having distressing thoughts, for example harming yourself or the baby. The fear of asking for help however, may be part of the problem, and you may need help, support and encouragement in being able to ask for help. PND is not only distressing but can also be disabling, so the sooner you are able to seek help, the better. When PND is addressed and acknowledged, it is more likely to pass sooner and be less severe.

Beginning to see a therapist can offer you the opportunity to look at the underlying reasons which have contributed to how you feel, as well as helping you to change and manage your feelings. In a safe and non-judgemental space you can understand the nature of your PND, discuss what it means in terms of your relationship with your partner. Most importantly, therapy allows you the space to openly discuss your PND without feeling ashamed or judged, and hopefully allow you begin enjoy being a parent.

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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London N6 & NW5
Written by Joshua Miles, BA, MSc, BPC, BACP Accredited Psychodynamic Psychotherapist
London N6 & NW5

Joshua's an experienced integrative therapist with an individual approach. He's worked with people to explore their ideas, thoughts & feelings at a deep level & assisted them in understanding themselves. He's assisted people in improving their mental wellbeing to become aware of difficulties & change patterns. He is based in Shoreditch, East London

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