Emma Cronin, registered nurse and midwife in AXA Health's 24/7 health support line for members

Postnatal depression FAQs

24 January 2024

Postnatal depression is a condition that affects many new parents, and it often raises numerous questions and concerns. In this article, we will address some frequently asked questions about postnatal depression, offering insights into its causes, impacts, and potential prevention and treatment options.

Is postnatal depression as severe as regular depression?

Postnatal depression is unquestionably as severe as any other form of depression. It should be treated with the same level of attention and care as any depressive disorder. The impact of postnatal depression can be significant, affecting both the individual and those around them.

Postnatal depression usually starts four to six weeks after the birth of the child, although it can be a matter of months before symptoms develop. Depending on the severity of the symptoms and the sort of treatment applied, the time to resolution will be different for everybody. It may last several months and sometimes up to a year, depending on individual factors. For some who don’t receive support and treatment it can last much longer, so it’s important to get the correct help.

It isn’t usual for someone to have postnatal depression symptoms for a matter of years. According to the NCT1, less than a third of people who experience postnatal depression have symptoms lasting a year or more. In most cases, the condition dissipates after a matter of months.

Can postnatal depression run in families?

There is little to suggest a genetic link to postnatal depression, but it's not a certainty. That said, if you have a history of postnatal depression in your family, or indeed any of the risk associated with depression, it’s important to tell a health professional so they can support you correctly.

How can I help someone with postnatal depression?

These are some basic ideas. Please remember there’s no 'one size fits all' solution but some of the following suggestions might help.

• It’s important that any mum who is experiencing difficulties sees a sympathetic doctor about her postnatal depression, to get the help she needs. If necessary, go with her and ensure she tells the doctor the full extent of the problem.

• Please remember this is an illness, as much as any other illness. They cannot help it, or ‘pull themselves together’ however much they try or may want to.

• Listen to her as much as you can. Ask her about her thoughts and feelings. Give her time.

• You can't offer a solution or a ‘fix’ for her depression but just listening and maybe hugging and reassuring her is hugely important.

• Try to be empathic, even if it’s boring to listen to the same thoughts and emotions repeatedly.

• There will be good days and bad days. Help as much as you can with practical stuff but also let her do as much as she wants to. Leave her role in the home as open for her as possible so she doesn't feel she’s a failure or that you’re taking over. Talk things over together so you both have a clear idea of what is helpful and what’s not!

• Don't push her to do things or go places she feels uncomfortable with, instead let her lead the way and set the pace.

• She may hate being left alone, especially in the early days. If so, try to rally family and friends so there’s always someone with her that she’s comfortable with.

• Help with childcare and suggest she spends the time doing something just for her.

• Reassure and remind her – and yourself – that the support she gets will help her recover.

Will my baby be affected if I experience depression during pregnancy or after birth?

If you experience depression while pregnant, the main effects on the baby will be due to any medication you are taking to ease your symptoms or any behaviours you’re engaging in/or not engaging due to your psychological problem. What I mean by this is if you’re not taking care of yourself or using drugs or alcohol.

Again, immediately after birth, medication may have an impact on your baby and there is some evidence to suggest that early bonding and some cognitive developmental problems may occur.

For these reasons it’s important to get professional advice and support if you experience mood problems, and to check any medication you’re taking with your GP.

Are antidepressants safe for breastfed babies?

Some antidepressants are safe for breastfeeding mothers and their babies, but it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional. The decision to take medication should be made with careful consideration of potential benefits and side effects.

Bear in mind that all antidepressants take time to work. If you do take them, they can be very effective, but you should be prepared to take them for at least six months. They also all have possible side effects, and when you stop taking them you should withdraw slowly, to avoid possible withdrawal effects which can be unpleasant.

Can postnatal depression be prevented or treated before it becomes severe?

While it's challenging to prevent postnatal depression entirely, NICE2 suggest that early screening and assessment during pregnancy and after birth can help identify risk factors and provide preventative treatment when necessary. 

If the necessary screening and assessments are carried out it is possible to influence the possibility of symptoms occurring, but not to wipe it out completely. Things can happen during the birthing process or after the birth, which may affect an individual's mood and ability to cope, but that couldn’t have been predicted.

What is puerperal psychosis?

Puerperal psychosis, also known as post-partum psychosis (PPP), is a rare but severe mental illness that can develop suddenly in the days or weeks after giving birth. Symptoms can include high mood, depression, confusion, hallucinations, and delusions. It is a psychiatric emergency, and immediate professional help is essential. This can happen to any woman. It often occurs ‘out of the blue’ to women who have not been ill before. It can be a frightening experience for women, their partners, friends and family. Women usually recover fully after an episode.

In conclusion, postnatal depression is a complex condition that can affect both mothers and fathers. It's crucial to be informed and seek support when needed. The answers to these frequently asked questions provide insights into understanding, managing, and addressing postnatal depression.

References

  1. How long can Postnatal depression last - NCT
  2. Postnatal mental health guidance – NICE