Whether this is your first child or your fourth, the birth of a new baby can trigger a powerful, even overwhelming surge of emotions — everything from excitement and joy to exhaustion, stress, sadness, fear and anxiety, or even depression.

Up to 80 per cent of new mums experience what has been dubbed the ‘baby blues’. Postpartum blues generally start on the first two to three days after delivery and may last for up to two weeks. During this time, mood swings and weepiness, anxiety, insomnia, restlessness and erratic sleeping patterns are common.

However, some new mums experience a more severe, long-lasting mental illness called postnatal depression. Postnatal depression is much more complex than stress or fatigue. If feelings of ‘postpartum blues’ persist for more than two weeks, it’s crucial to book an appointment with your GP so that you can take steps to take care of your emotional health.

Postnatal Depression Symptoms

Symptoms of postnatal depression can range from mild baby blues to severe depression.

Baby blues symptoms

  • Last only a few days to a week or two after the baby is born
  • Mood swings and anxiety
  • A low mood or waves of sadness
  • Irritability
  • Crying spells
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty with sleep

Postnatal depression symptoms

Postnatal depression may develop anytime within the first few weeks after giving birth, up to a year after birth. In contrast to baby blues, signs of postpartum depression typically last for longer than two weeks. The symptoms are also more intense than baby blues symptoms.

Signs of postpartum depression include:

  • Severe mood swings
  • Excessive crying
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Loss of appetite or excessive eating
  • Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
  • Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in former hobbies
  • Intense irritability or anger
  • Loss of confidence and fear of not being a good mother
  • Low energy levels, and struggling with daily tasks such as cooking or shopping
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, inadequacy and failure
  • Social anxiety and fear of being alone or leaving the house
  • Hopelessness
  • Diminished capacity to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • Belief that the baby doesn’t love you
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or the baby
  • Fear of being left alone with the baby
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

Untreated, postnatal depression may last for many months or even years.

What Causes Postnatal Depression?

The causes of postnatal depression can be complex and multifaceted. Generally, baby blues and postpartum depression typically occur alongside natural shifts in the body’s hormones following pregnancy. After you give birth, the levels of oestrogen and progesterone in your body decline abruptly, impacting your mood. Hormones produced by your thyroid gland may also drop abruptly, contributing to feelings of tiredness, sluggishness and depression.

However, other emotional issues may also play a role in the development of postnatal depression. For example, sleep deprivation and feeling overwhelmed can contribute to postpartum depression. Motherhood is a dramatic life event and you may struggle with your sense of identity or feel that you’ve lost control over your life. These emotional issues can contribute to postnatal depression.

What Are The Risk Factors For Postnatal Depression?

Postnatal depression can impact the life of any new mother, even women who have given birth to children before. However, your risk grows if:

  • You have a history of depression
  • You have bipolar disorder
  • You have experienced postnatal depression before as a result of an earlier pregnancy
  • Depression or other mental illnesses run in your family
  • The pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted
  • You have experienced stressful events in the past year, such as pregnancy complications, illness, job loss, or the death of a loved one
  • Your baby has health complications or special needs
  • You have twins, triplets or multiple births
  • You are experiencing financial strain or problems in your relationship with your significant other
  • Breast-feeding is difficult

How Can I Prevent Postnatal Depression?

If you have a history of clinical depression, it’s best to let your doctor know. During your pregnancy and after delivery, your GP can provide with a postnatal depression test and help you keep an eye out for symptoms of depression.

After your baby is born, your doctor may recommend a checkup to discuss how you are feeling. The sooner postnatal depression is detected, the sooner you can receive help. If you have a history of postnatal depression, your GP may recommend antidepressant treatment or psychotherapy immediately following delivery.

Where Can I Get Depression Help?

If you’re unsure where to turn to receive help, your first point of contact should be your doctor. Your GP can guide you to appropriate health services to help you manage the symptoms of depression and recover sooner.

Here is a list of helpful resources who can assist you with managing your postnatal depression:

  • Your GP – If you experience any of baby blues symptoms for more than two weeks, it’s important to talk to your GP to discuss whether your emotional lows may be caused by postnatal depression. Occasionally, mild postnatal depression can be managed through therapy, counselling and support groups. In more severe cases, your doctor may recommend antidepressants during and after pregnancy.
  • Perinatal Anxiety & Depression (PANDA) Helpline – This organisation supports women, men and families across Australia impacted by anxiety and depression during pregnancy and in the first year of parenthood.
  • Local mental health services – Your local community health centre, obstetrician or midwife, or child and family health nurse can provide help.
  • Australian Psychological Society – You may find their ‘Find a Psychologist’ service helpful.
  • Parent group, playgroup or therapy group – These groups can provide a source of emotional support and you will meet people to share your experiences with.

Many Australian women experience postpartum depression and baby blues. If your baby blues persist for longer than two weeks, it’s best to seek help from a doctor. For advice on postnatal depression, visit a GP at one of our clinics today or contact us on (07) 3711 2880.