Post natal depression

What is it? How do I know it's happening?

About 10 - 15% of women become depressed after having a baby, that is at least two weeks of low mood and other symptoms such as:

  • Feeling anxious or irritable
  • Not sleeping even when their baby sleeps
  • Poor appetite (or comfort eating)
  • Guilty and negative thoughts
  • Being unable to enjoy things
  • Feeling that life just isn't worth living
  • Finding it hard to look after themselves and their baby.

Postnatal depression usually starts within one to two months of giving birth but can be later. It may last for weeks or months. It is more likely if a person has:

  • Previously had depression or other mental health problems
  • Had depression or anxiety in pregnancy
  • No support
  • Had a recent stressful event, such as a relationship ending.

There is a more serious type of postnatal illness called puerperal psychosis, which is rarer than postnatal depression, and about one mother in a 1,000 suffers from this. This is a medical and psychiatric emergency. Mothers become disorientated and often do not realise they have had a baby and may have acute mood changes. It usually occurs straight after delivery or in the following two weeks after birth and medical help should be sought urgently.

The majority of cases of post natal depression can be treated in the community with the correct advice and support. There are some voluntary support and counselling agencies in the community that can help support a mother with post natal depression.

How can you get help?

A person should talk to their GP or health visitor. For urgent help, they should go to the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E) or contact their GP or their mental health service.

The help a person may need depends on how severe their depression is. Everyone can try the self-help suggestions below. If this is not enough, they might benefit from a talking therapy such as for example Cognitive Behaviour therapy (CBT).

For more severe depression, a person may need medication, with or without talking therapy. It is important that they:

  • Tell someone (their partner, a relative, a friend, their health visitor or GP) how they feel
  • Sleep or rest during the day or night when they can
  • Try and eat regularly
  • Find time to do things they enjoy or help them to relax
  • Go to local groups for new mothers or postnatal support groups
  • Let others help with housework, shopping and looking after other children
  • Exercise
  • Use self-help books and websites
  • Contact organisations that support women with post natal depression
  • Don't blame themselves, their partner or close friends or relatives
  • Don't use alcohol or drugs.

How can a partner, family or friends help?

  • Take time to listen
  • Try not to be shocked or disappointed by the diagnosis - it can be treated
  • Encourage the person to get the help and treatment they need
  • Give practical help with shopping, feeding, changing the baby or housework.

Most women will get better without treatment in three to six months. One in four mothers with post natal depression are still depressed when their child is one-year-old. Depression can affect the relationship between mother, baby and partner. It can also affect the child's development. So the shorter it lasts, the better.

What we offer

New Horizons mother and baby service offers four inpatient beds for mothers and their babies in the Avon area and at times for some out-of-area referrals. Mothers with the most serious post natal illnesses, who need support and treatment usually use the inpatient beds.

We also offer some outreach services and antenatal assessment for mothers who have a history of severe mental illness or severe post natal depression. During their stay mothers are usually offered some one-to-one support, occupational therapy services including a talking group Mellow Parenting, physiotherapy, attendance at anxiety management and dance therapy groups. Nursery nurses also form part of the team to help support mothers with their general care of new babies. There is also an important referral pathway to the local primary infant mental health specialist team to help support mother and baby interactions and bonding.


The GP, midwife or health visitor should be the first point of contact. They will then contact the appropriate community mental health team for further advice if needed and liaise with New Horizons if specialist advice is required.

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