Although there’s been a lot of research into preventing mental illness in new mums, there’s no evidence that there’s anything specific you can do to stop the condition developing, apart from maintaining as healthy a lifestyle as you can.
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, make sure you tell your GP or mental health team when you’re pregnant or thinking of having a baby. That way, they’ll be able to offer you appropriate monitoring and treatment, if necessary.
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.
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.
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 mothers worry about their baby’s health. If you have postnatal depression, the anxiety can be overwhelming. When you feel anxious, you may experience some of the following:
- racing pulse
- thumping heart
- 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. You may need re-assurance from your partner, Health Visitor or GP.
You may find yourself avoiding situations, such as crowded shops because you’re afraid of having panic symptoms.
Avoiding other people
You may not want to see friends and family. You might find it hard to go to postnatal 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.
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
Depending on how severely they are affected, women with postnatal depression may struggle to look after themselves and the baby. Simple tasks become difficult to manage. That’s why it’s so important to get help.
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.