Postnatal Depression Symptoms

Postnatal depression, which is alternatively referred to as postpartum depression, is a serious condition that affects as many as 10 percent of new mothers to some degree. Depression can interfere with a mother’s ability to care for and bond with her baby, and an extremely severe form known as postpartum psychosis can be extremely dangerous to the safety of mother and child. However, the good news is that postnatal depression is very treatable.


Although the causes of postnatal depression are not always clear, several interwoven factors play a role. Pregnancy and childbirth create an avalanche of physical changes that make new mothers vulnerable to developing depression. Following childbirth, there is a large dip in the production of progesterone and estrogen, which the body produces throughout pregnancy. This decrease often combines with a drop in the level of thyroid hormone, and can cause serious fatigue and mood swings. Additional factors include the sleep deprivation and stress that accompany caring for a newborn.


The vast majority (up to 85 percent) of mothers report experiencing “baby blues,” a drop in mood that is relatively mild and passes on its own. True postnatal depression differs from baby blues in that it is longer-lasting and far more severe, and does not usually abate without some form of treatment. Symptoms of postnatal depression include a pronounced lack of interest in the baby, negative feelings toward or thoughts of hurting the baby, lack of motivation and interest in normally enjoyable activities, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, or thoughts of suicide.

Getting Help

If you are experiencing the above symptoms, discuss the issue with a medical professional. A general practitioner, your obstetrician or a psychotherapist can all help to evaluate your situation, and determine whether a diagnosis of postnatal depression is appropriate and, if so, what treatment(s) to consider. This evaluation consists of a conversation between you and your doctor regarding your feelings and behaviors, as well as your past mental and physical health history.


Many different types of treatment are effective in alleviating the symptoms of postnatal depression. The type of treatment(s) chosen will depend upon the extent of the symptoms, as well as the personal preferences of the patient. For mild to moderate postnatal depression, psychotherapy alone may be sufficient to address the problem. Therapy can help the patient adjust to life changes, and make lifestyle choices that support her wellness and decrease symptoms. For others, antidepressant medications may be necessary to balance mood. Many patients will benefit from an approach that combines the use of medication with ongoing therapy and support.

Predisposing Factors

Many different factors affect whether or not a new mother experiences postnatal depression, and to what extent. Although any woman is at risk of developing depression, some factors appear to increase the likelihood of a depressive episode. These include a prior history of depression, a lack of support, marital conflict, a history of previous postnatal depression (self or family), being a single parent, unplanned pregnancy and depression during pregnancy.

Postnatal depression