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Is it the blues or postnatal depression?

The baby blues

During the first week after childbirth, most women get what is often called the ‘baby blues’. Symptoms can include feeling emotional and irrational, bursting into tears for no apparent reason, feeling irritable or touchy or feeling depressed or anxious.

All these symptoms are normal and usually only last for a few days. They are probably due to the sudden hormone and chemical changes which take place in your body after childbirth.

Puerperal psychosis

One or two mothers in 1000 will also develop an obvious severe psychiatric illness after the birth of their baby, which requires hospital treatment. Usually a complete recovery is made, although this may take a few weeks or months.

Postnatal depression

This lies between the baby blues and puerperal psychosis, and is an extremely distressing condition with many symptoms. Postnatal depression is thought to affect at least one in ten women, but many women suffer in silence or the condition may go unnoticed by health professionals.

Postnatal depression usually occurs two to eight weeks after delivery. In some cases the baby blues do not go away or the depression can appear up to six months or even a year after the birth of the baby. Some symptoms such as tiredness, irritabilityor poor appetite are normal if you have just had a baby, but usually these are mild and do not stop you leading a normal life.

With postnatal depression you may feel increasingly depressed and despondent and looking after yourself or the baby may become too much. Some other signs of postnatal depression are:

  • anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • sleeplessness
  • aches and pains or feeling unwell
  • memory loss or unable to concentrate
  • can’t stop crying
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • loss of interest in the baby

If you think that you are suffering from postnatal depression don’t struggle on alone. It is not a sign that you are a ‘bad mother’ or are unable to cope. Postnatal depression is an illness just as any other illness. Ask for help just as you would if you had the flu or had broken your leg. Talk to someone you can trust such as your partner or a friend or ask your health visitor to call. It is also important to see your GP – if you don’t feel up to making an appointment, ask someone to do this for you, or arrange for the GP to call.

You may also find it helpful to contact the Association for Postnatal Illness, Meet-a-Mum Association (MAMA) or the National Childbirth Trust.


We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.