Postnatal Depression

What is Postnatal Depression?

Postnatal Depression is a term used to describe mood disorders occurring to women in the first year after birth of a child and there may be a fine line between what is considered normal and abnormal.  Fathers can also experience symptoms of postnatal depression.  There are 3 different postnatal disorders that can appear.

The Baby Blues

In the first week after the birth of a baby, up to 80 percent of all women will experience a period of mild depression commonly called the baby blues. This is usually a time of extra sensitivity and symptoms include tiredness, anxiety, tearfulness, insomnia and mood changes that tend to peak between 3-5 days.

Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis is the least common of postnatal disorders. This condition usually appears within the first couple of months following childbirth and may occur in mothers with a personal or family history of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (manic depression).  This is a medical emergency and help should be sought immediately.

Postnatal Depression

Post Natal Depression has a much slower and insidious onset. It is most likely to occur between the 3rd and 9th month after the birth of the baby. It is not a transitory condition and it may persist for 6-15 months or longer. Experiences vary considerably but usually include several of the following symptoms. Some symptoms may not indicate a severe problem. However, persistent low mood or loss of interest or pleasure in activities, along with four other symptoms occurring together for a period of at least two weeks indicate clinical depression and require treatment.


What are the symptoms of Postnatal Depression?


  • persistent low mood
  • inadequacy, failure, hopelessness, helplessness
  • exhaustion, emptiness, sadness, tearfulness
  • guilt, shame, worthlessness
  • confusion, anxiety, panic
  • fear for the baby and of the baby
  • wanting to run away



  • inability to think clearly and make decisions
  • lack of concentration and poor memory
  • running away from everything
  • fear of being rejected by partner
  • worry about harm or death to partner or baby
  • thoughts of suicide.



  • lack of interest or pleasure in usual activities (including sex)
  • insomnia or excessive sleep, nightmares
  • not eating or overeating
  • decreased energy and motivation
  • withdrawal from social contact
  • poor self care
  • inability to cope with routine tasks


What Are The Causes?
Motherhood means hard work, responsibility, adjusting to a major lifestyle change and often, a lack of sleep.  Exact causes vary from person to person but often involve some of the factors below:

  • hormonal changes due to childbirth
  • family history of depression
  • previous episodes of depression
  • poor relationship with partner or being a single parent
  • lack of perceived support from those close to you
  • difficult or unhappy childhood
  • delivery complications for mother or baby
  • premature, postmature or multiple births
  • poor relationship with partner or being a single parent
  • lack of perceived support from those close to you
  • not the expected baby (appearance, gender)
  • separation of mother and baby
  • 'difficult baby' (temperament, sleeping habits, feeding behaviour)
  • socioeconomic disadvantage
  • unplanned pregnancy
  • past history of sexual abuse or assault


What Help is Available?

There are several treatment options for postnatal depression including medication, counselling, group therapy and self-help support groups, depending on the woman’s needs.  Antidepressant medication can be a vital part of treatment but should always be accompanied by counselling or other support services.  Useful specific treatments include individual counselling, relationship counselling, and psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioural therapy.

Counselling in Sydney and Psychotherapy in Sydney for Postnatal Depression can be provided by Therapeutic Axis.


What Can I Do to Help Myself?

Remember that this time of stress does not last forever and there are useful things you can do for yourself, including:

  • trust your own judgement.
  • make each day as simple as possible, avoid extra pressures or unnecessary tasks
  • if you have a partner, involve them in the care of the baby from the beginning discuss with them how you can equally share the household chores and responsibilities
  • accept all reasonable offers of help, especially in the first few weeks
  • find someone you feel comfortable with to share your feelings and concerns
  • call Tresillian or Lifeline when you need someone to talk to – whatever the hour.
  • don’t spend time with people who lead you to feel worse about your self or your mothering
  • try to get out of the house at least once a day
  • give yourself ‘time out’ each day and do something you enjoy
  • maintain an active social life if possible
  • meet other mothers in your area
  • take a sleep or rest when the baby is sleeping
  • eat regular healthy meals
  • organise to do regular exercise
  • if you notice prolonged changes from how you normally feel or behave seek help as early as possible
  • above all, value your self and your role as a mother


Families and Friends

  • encourage the new mother to ask for help and reassure her that she is not a ‘bad mother’ for doing so.  Recognising there is a problem and asking for help are signs of maturity and responsibility, not weakness
  • offer practical help such as shopping, cooking or babysitting any older children that the new mother also has
  • let the new mother know that you are there to listen.  Offering a listening ear is often the best support, you do not need to ‘fix’ it for them
  • if you have any indication that the new mother is feeling suicidal, don’t be afraid to ask her if this is how she feels.  It is best to be open , honest and upfront about any risk and not to delay seeking help
  • educate yourself on postnatal depression and ways to help through some of the resources listed below


Further Reading

  • Post-Natal Depression: Your Questions Answered, by Erika Harvey,  Element Books, 1999,  ISBN: 1862043302
  • Post-Natal Depression: Psychology, Science, and the Transition to Motherhood, by Paula Nicolson, Routledge, 1998, ISBN: 0415163633
  • Surviving Post-Natal Depression: At Home No One Hears You Scream, Cara Aiken, Jessica Publishers, July 2000, ISBN: 1853028614

Reference:  Mental Health Association of NSW Inc