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Symptoms of perinatal mental illness

Perinatal mental illness can affect anybody.

Common symptoms associated with perinatal mental illness include:


You feel low, unhappy and tearful for much or all of the time. You may feel worse at certain times of the day, like mornings or evenings.


You may get irritable or angry with your partner, baby or other children.

Overwhelming tiredness

All new mothers get pretty tired, but depression can make you feel utterly exhausted and lacking in energy.

Altered sleep patterns and sleeplessness

Even though you are tired, you may still find it hard to fall asleep. You may lie awake worrying about things, or wake in the night even when your baby is asleep. You may also wake very early, before your baby wakes up.

Appetite changes

You may lose your appetite and forget to eat. Some women eat for comfort and then feel bad about gaining weight.

Loss of enjoyment

You find that you can’t enjoy or be interested in anything. You may not enjoy being with your baby.

Loss of libido – loss of interest in sex

There are several reasons why you lose interest in sex after having a baby. It may be painful or you may be too tired. Postnatal depression can take away any desire. Your partner may not understand this, especially if it goes on for a while, and feel rejected.


Most new parents worry about their baby’s health. If you have postnatal depression, the worry can be overwhelming and leave you feeling anxious. When you feel anxious, you may experience some of the following:

  • racing pulse
  • thumping heart
  • breathlessness
  • sweating
  • fear that you may have a heart attack, collapse or that something awful is about to happen.

You may be so worried that you’re afraid to be left alone with your baby or avoid certain situations. Please talk to your partner, health visitor or GP.

Avoiding other people

You may not want to see friends and family. You might find it hard to go to local support groups.


You may feel that things will never get better. You may think that life is not worth living. You may even wonder whether your family would be better off without you.

Thoughts of suicide

If you have thoughts about harming yourself, you should ask your doctor for help straight away. If you have a strong urge to harm yourself, seek urgent help.

If you’re under 19, you can also call 0800 1111 to talk to Childline. The number will not appear on your phone bill.

Signs for partners, family and friends to look out for

Postnatal depression can develop gradually, which can make it hard to recognise. Some parents may avoid talking to family and friends about how they’re feeling because they worry they’ll be judged for not coping or not appearing happy.

Signs for partners, family and friends to look out for in new parents include:

  • frequent crying for no obvious reason
  • having difficulty bonding with their baby, looking after them only as a duty and not wanting to play with them
  • withdrawing from contact with other people
  • speaking negatively all the time and claiming that they’re hopeless
  • neglecting themselves, such as not washing or changing their clothes
  • losing all sense of time, such as being unaware whether 10 minutes or two hours have passed
  • losing their sense of humour
  • constantly worrying that something is wrong with their baby, regardless of reassurance

It’s important to get help if you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms.

If you think someone you know is depressed, encourage them to talk about their feelings to you, a friend, their GP or their Health Visitor.

If you have a history of depression or other mental health problems, or if there’s a family history of mental health problems following childbirth, discuss this with your GP, midwife, health visitor or mental health team when you’re pregnant or thinking of having a baby to receive support.

Page last reviewed: 23-06-2021

Next review due: 23-06-2024