About postnatal depression
Postnatal depression happens after your baby is born, and it:
- involves serious negative emotional changes that last longer than two weeks
- stops you from doing what you need or want to do day-to-day.
Dads can also experience depression at this time, especially if their partner is depressed. Depression in new fathers is often not recognised and isn’t usually called 'postnatal depression'.
It’s normal for your mood to flip-flop right after your baby is born
In the first couple of weeks after having a baby, it’s normal for new mums to experience a range of emotions. You can flip-flop from feelings of excitement and elation, to feeling tearful, anxious, confused or just plain down. These feelings are known as the ‘baby blues’.
But some mums feel down for much longer, and those feelings may develop into postnatal depression. It affects around 15% of mums, and can occur any time in the first year. It’s more common in women who have suffered depression in the past.
Warning signs of postnatal depression
You may have depression if you:
- lose your joy or feel an absence of pleasure
- feel sad, hopeless, worthless, and/or useless
- have little or no energy
- feel you just can’t cope with anything, even housework
- feel angry or irritated and don’t know why
- cry a lot
- don’t sleep well, even when your baby is asleep
- have a poor or excessive appetite
- don’t care about how you - or things around you - look
- get angry with the people around you, like your partner, other children or your whānau
- have aches and pains
- feel that you are a bad mother, and blame yourself unnecessarily when things go wrong
- don’t feel interested in or close to your baby or any other members of your whānau
- feel that the baby is your only source of pleasure or interest
- feel overly anxious or panicky about your baby
- think bad thoughts, or have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
A mother experiencing anxiety may:
- have difficulty sleeping
- be restless and unable to relax
- have racing or excessive thoughts
- be shaky
- feel her worries are increasing
- struggle to breathe
- have a racing heart
- have a constant need to check things
- have concerns about their baby.
While any woman with a baby will likely feel some of these things some of the time, postnatal depression is when these feelings don’t go away. It’s quite common to experience depression and anxiety together.
Each woman’s experience of postnatal depression is different, and your cultural background might also affect your experience of postnatal depression.
If you notice any of these feelings in yourself, or your whānau does, especially if they last for more than a few days, talk to your doctor, midwife, Plunket nurse, or Well Child provider right away.
Because postnatal depression can impact on how you feel about and care for your pēpi and other tamariki, your midwife or Plunket nurse will ask questions about your feelings when they visit, so they can make sure you get the support you need.
Read more about postnatal depression
Why postnatal depression happens
As with other types of depression, there’s no simple reason why some women are affected by postnatal depression and some aren’t.
Postnatal depression is more common if you:
- have suffered from depression in the past
- have a family history of depression
- are young (under 20)
- have limited support from your partner or whānau
- have a challenging relationship with your partner
- had limited support from your parents when you were a child
- have been through something stressful like moving house during pregnancy or after birth, or have experienced a traumatic event like a death, an illness, or a natural disaster
- are worried about housing or money
- have low self-esteem.
Getting help and support
Depression is an illness – being depressed doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a parent, or as a person. In mothers, it’s often caused by a combination of hormonal changes, extreme tiredness, and the psychological adjustment to everything that comes with being a new mum. It’s a lot to deal with all at once, and you’re not alone.
Ask your doctor, midwife, Plunket nurse, or Well Child provider for help. Your doctor will be able talk to you about treatment, which may include taking medicine. They should also know what help is available in your area.
It’s also good for your partner and other support people to know what to do if they’re worried about you, and to get advice on the best way to support you.
It’s really important for both you and your baby that you get the help you need to get well. If you don’t get help the first time you ask, ask again, or find someone else who will listen.
- Talk to other people – you may be surprised by who had the same feelings as you when they had new babies.
- Your whānau and friends can help with small, everyday things (looking after other children, meals, errands or housework). They can also remind you that you don’t have to go through this alone.
If you’re pregnant, and you’ve had depression or another mental illness before, you might like to think about the help or support you may need after your pēpi is born. You could ask other people to be ready to help you, or let people know what to look for, so you can get help early.
There are a lot of places you can go for help and advice.
What you can do
You may be able to access:
- postnatal depression support groups
- community mental health services
- home help assistance
- other appropriately trained professionals.
People want to help, and it’s good to let them – accept offers of support or help that you feel comfortable with, things like regular phone calls, visits, help with housework, meals, or looking after your baby to give you some time out.
It might help if you:
- don’t expect too much of yourself – try to take it one day at a time and accept that you’ll have good days and bad days. Try not to overload yourself with housework or other work – it doesn’t matter if you don’t get through everything on your to-do list – keep goals small and achievable.
- have things to look forward to during the day and for the week, like time for you and your baby to just play, cuddle and talk, or lunch with a friend.
- write down how you’re feeling. Read about postnatal depression to help you understand why you’re feeling the way you do. Keep a daily mood calendar to track your mood, and rate your anxiety level.
- look after your body by eating well – if you can’t stomach big meals, try eating small meals often. Make time to rest, relax, and sleep when you can (sleep disturbance is really common with PND so it’s important to nap and sleep whenever you have the opportunity).
- work on your physical wellness. Deep belly breathing, planned time out, and going for a walk are great stress releases and can make you feel better.
Read more about postnatal depression and treatment options