Signs and symptoms - Postnatal depression

Postnatal depression is the term used for depression that some women experience in the first year after having a baby.

Symptoms of postnatal depression may start as baby blues and then get worse. The symptoms may take some time to develop. Postnatal depression may be most obvious when your baby is 4 to 6 months old.

Postnatal depression can last for longer than three months. If not treated, it can last considerably longer. The earlier it is recognised, diagnosed and treated, the faster you will recover.

Postnatal depression occurs in 10% to 15% of women within the first year of giving birth. It is much more common than postpartum psychosis.

Signs of postnatal depression

Postnatal depression can have a broad range of symptoms. These can vary in how severe they are.

You may be feeling sad, anxious and alone. You may be feeling guilty, irritable and angry. You may be experiencing panic attacks. You may not enjoy being with people, even your baby.

Other symptoms of postnatal depression include:

  • loss of appetite
  • poor concentration
  • tiredness all the time
  • problems sleeping
  • being agitated
  • crying easily

Feelings and thoughts you might experience include:

  • feeling inadequate
  • feeling panicked
  • feeling rejected by your baby
  • worrying a lot about your baby

Obsessive behaviour may be another sign of postnatal depression. You may have overwhelming fears, for example about your baby dying. Some mothers have recurring thoughts about harming their baby. Very few mothers ever act on this.

Non-urgent advice: Get help from your GP or public health nurse if:

  • these feelings or symptoms last for more than 2 weeks
  • you have any thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

Do not let worrying thoughts you may have about your baby stop you from seeking help. Effective treatment is available. The vast majority of women with postnatal depression are treated at home with their baby.

Your family and friends may notice that you have postnatal depression before you do. If they mention this to you, take it seriously and seek help from your GP or public health nurse.

Page last reviewed: 1 March 2018
Next review due: 1 March 2021