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

Postnatal depression signs and symptoms

1 July 2024

Postnatal depression is a type of depression that can affect both new mothers and fathers as they navigate the significant life changes that come with parenthood.

Despite the joy and anticipation surrounding the arrival of a new baby, postnatal depression can cast a shadow on this. Emma Cronin, registered nurse and midwife in AXA Health’s 24/7 support line for members, will explore the potential signs and symptoms of postnatal depression, as well as the causes, and some of the treatment options.

It's important to note that postnatal depression is often underdiagnosed or mis-diagnosed. It's a widespread condition that affects new parents to varying degrees.

In the UK, approximately eight out of ten new mothers experience what is commonly referred to as the "baby blues," which typically subsides within a few weeks, however postnatal depression affects around one in ten new mothers in the UK1.

Signs and symptoms

Postnatal depression shares many common signs with general depression, but it is often distinguished by its onset, which typically occurs in the weeks or months following childbirth.

The signs and symptoms of postnatal depression can manifest in three main categories:

1. Thoughts and feelings:

  • Negative thinking
  • Low self-esteem
  • Guilt
  • Helplessness

2. Changes in behaviour:

3. Physical changes:

  • Sudden fluctuations in appetite
  • Listlessness or a lack of enthusiasm
  • Constipation

It's important to recognise that these symptoms may vary from person to person. While many parents may experience some of these signs, the severity and duration can differ significantly2.

What causes postnatal depression?

The exact cause of postnatal depression is not singular or straightforward, and it can develop without a clear trigger, though it's likely that a combination of factors contributes to this condition3. Some potential risk factors include:

  • Previous mental health issues, including postnatal depression
  • Lack of support
  • Experience of abuse
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poverty and poor living conditions
  • Major life events
  • Substance use and addiction
  • Traumatic pregnancy

Treatment options

Postnatal depression is a treatable condition, and seeking help is essential. The treatment approach can involve a combination of medical and lifestyle interventions.

Options may include therapy, counselling, and, in some cases, medication prescribed by a healthcare professional. Lifestyle changes such as:

  • self-care practices,
  • support from loved ones,
  • and seeking help from support groups

can also play a crucial role in managing postnatal depression4.

If you’re not feeling yourself, don’t struggle alone - make an appointment with a healthcare professional and tell them what you’re feeling, they’ll be able to determine the most suitable treatment plan for you. 

>Read more on postnatal depression, in our frequently asked questions.


  1. Postnatal depression – GOV.UK
  2. Signs and symptoms of Postnatal depression - NHS
  3. Postnatal depression causes - NHS
  4. Treatment options – NHS Inform