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How to recognise postnatal depression

Be prepared by knowing the signs and symptoms.

Mild feelings of sadness or fluctuations in mood are very common after the birth of a new child. Up to 80% of new mothers will experience these ‘baby blues’ in the first couple of weeks. Luckily, these feelings usually pass on their own within a day or two.

For some new parents, however, the emotional toll of childbirth can be more serious. One in seven new mums will experience postnatal depression, a more severe or prolonged episode of emotional changes that can include strong depressive mood swings, anxiety, social withdrawal, irritability and loss of enjoyment in usual activities.

Symptoms of postnatal depression

Postnatal depression can start slowly or suddenly, and can range from a mild feeling of sadness to severe depression. It is most common after a woman’s first pregnancy, and usually develops in the first few weeks or months after the birth.

Symptoms of postnatal depression can include:

  • Low self-esteem and confidence
  • Feelings of inadequacy and guilt
  • Loss of enjoyment of usual activities
  • Loss of appetite and weight
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Irritability
  • Tearfulness
  • A feeling of being unable to cope
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Panic attacks
  • Loss of libido
  • Fears for baby’s or partners’ safety or wellbeing.

(Source: Black Dog Institute)

Often, a woman with postnatal depression will withdraw from everyone, which will sometimes include her baby and partner, and the distress she feels can interfere with her ability to function with normal daily routines.

Risk factors

You’re more at risk of developing postnatal depression if you’ve suffered from depression before, if you experienced a traumatic birth, or if you have a lack of support around you when the baby arrives. But there are other factors, such as a lack of sleep, being overwhelmed by the big changes that are suddenly happening, or being stressed by other events in your life. If you are at risk, mention it to your family, as well as your doctor or midwife before it happens, so you’ve got a team of people looking out for you. Being prepared means you’ll be quicker to recognise and deal with it, if it does happen.

Treating postnatal depression

It is important to understand that postnatal depression is a real condition that requires support, and isn’t something you need to just ‘snap out of’ or ‘get over’. If you have been feeling this way for two weeks or more, make sure you visit your doctor to talk about what you are experiencing. Your doctor will work with you to come up with a treatment plan that might include:

  • Counselling or psychological treatment
  • Support groups
  • Sleep management
  • Diet, exercise and self-care
  • Antidepressant medication

More information on postnatal depression, including risk factors and treatment options is available at beyondblue.


For tips on recognising post-natal depression, listen now below.

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