The following feelings are symptoms of depression.
- feeling tired and lacking interest, motivation or pleasure – in the case of postnatal depression, this can sometimes include not feeling close to your baby or enjoying being with her, which may be accompanied by a sense of guilt and incompetence
- feeling low, sad, guilty, tearful, helpless or hopeless
- low self-esteem, self-hatred and needing reassurance
- feeling irritable and intolerant with those around you, including your baby or partner
- finding it virtually impossible to carry out even simple tasks
- insomnia or sleeping too much
- poor appetite or overeating, sometimes with weight loss or gain
- trouble concentrating and making decisions
- being restless, fidgety or overwhelmingly anxious
- negative or guilty feelings, or feeling that you’d be better off dead, or wanting to harm yourself
- in very rare cases, hallucinations or delusions, such as hearing voices.
I have some of those symptoms, am I depressed… or just struggling to cope?
It’s important to remember that having some of the above symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have depression. Many can be caused by the lack of sleep, and stress. A key difference is that even during periods of grief most people feel some moments of joy, whereas if you are depressed your mood is likely to be constantly flat. If you are constantly feeling the symptoms above you should seek help.
Diagnosing postnatal depression
Postnatal depression is defined as depression that starts within four weeks of the baby’s birth.
During the early weeks, your healthcare team will ask routine questions to check how you are coping emotionally.
Some new mothers are nervous about asking for help, especially if they have had mental health problems such as depression in the past. However, if you feel you can’t cope, and this feeling lasts for two weeks or more, do seek help. In extreme cases, untreated depression could impact on your baby’s well-being and development.
Be aware of your mental health history
If you already had a mental health problem before becoming pregnant, you are more likely to develop problems again during pregnancy, or during the first year of your baby’s life, than at other times in your life. Try not to let this worry you, but keep an eye out for the signs, so that if anything happens you can seek help quickly, as any severe problem could put you or your baby at risk.
Treatment for depression
Research shows that simple lifestyle changes such as taking up exercise can often help reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, if you feel that you may need treatment for depression or anxiety, the options fall into two main categories:
- psychological treatments (such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT))
- medication such as anti-depressants.
Doctors will often recommend that you combine psychological and medical treatments, aiming to reduce the medication after the psychological therapy is finished. If you are prescribed any medication and are breastfeeding, make sure you mention this to the doctor.
Many people find it easier to talk to a professional than to a friend or family member. Counsellors are trained to listen non-judgementally and to help you find a way through your difficulties, while cognitive behavioural therapists are trained in techniques to help you change the ways you think or behave that might be contributing to the way you are feeling.
How to find a therapist
Ask your GP for a referral or go to the website of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Some baby units also provide befriending or counselling services to offer support or practical advice, which you may find useful.
If you feel like harming yourself or you feel unable to look after yourself or your baby, call your GP or their out-of-hours service urgently, or go to A&E. They can refer you to a mental health service.
- Carek PJ (2011) Exercise for the treatment of depression and anxiety, 'International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine', Vol 41, No 1, p15-28
- Fraser DM, Cooper MA (2009) Myles Textbook for Midwives (15th edition), London, Churchill
- Henderson D, Macdonald S (2004) Mayes Midwifery (13th edition), London, Balliere Tindall
- MIND (2001), Oates (2001), Robinson (2002) cited in Henderson D, Macdonald S (2004) Mayes Midwifery (13th edition), London, Balliere Tindall
- NHS Choices (accessed Sept 2011) Tools, Depression self-assessment test,http://www.nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/depression.aspx
- NHS Direct Wales (accessed Sept 2011) Encyclopaedia, Post-natal depression,http://www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk/encyclopaedia/p/article/postnataldepression/
- NICE (2007) Antenatal and postnatal mental health, CG45, National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence
- RC PSYCH (2011) Postnatal depression, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, London
When your baby is born prematurely it can be extremely stressful, especially if she is unwell. Every parent copes differently, but many find it helpful to talk about their feelings.
The arrival of your premature baby will have a huge impact, not only on you, but on those who are close to you.
If you are struggling to cope after the birth of your premature baby, it’s important to ask for help if you need it.
Finding out that your premature baby is likely to have a long-term health problem or disability is extremely difficult and you will need time to work through your emotions.
Staying strong for your premature baby is all about balancing her needs with yours.
Giving birth to a premature baby is emotionally traumatic as well as physically. Taking care of your mental health is important
ℹLast reviewed on April 1st, 2012. Next review date April 1st, 2015.