Postnatal Illness

woman in black long sleeve shirt covering her face

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Postnatal depression can strike any time from three months after the birth of a baby up to two years later. Postnatal depression, or PNI as it is more commonly referred to, is becoming more and more accepted in the UK as an illness or condition and can range in severity from mild depression and anxiety to suicidal thoughts and/ or self harm.

In the UK all women are tested for PNI at theirs and their babies’ six-week check up – GPs ask a range of questions such as:

  • Have you felt unable to cope at all in the past week?
  • Have you felt disinterested in joining in activities or days out at all in the past week?
  • Have you felt unusually tearful or tired in the past week?
  • Have you felt you may harm yourself at all in the past week?

If women answer these questions honestly the GP will then score their answers and talk to them about things can be taken further to help them feel better. GPs and health visitors are there to pick up on the symptoms and suggest further action.

Ultimately, however, it does take the woman herself admitting to feeling low, not coping well, feeling anxious and for help to be sought. Many women are scared to tell someone about how they are feeling for fear of their baby being taken away from them but in reality, the sooner help is sought the less likely something serious will happen. As mentioned before PNI is becoming more and more accepted these days so you will not be looked at unkindly.

Symptoms of postnatal depression

There are many symptoms of PNI and they can include, irritability, over tiredness, over eating, lack of appetite, panic attacks, anxiety, mood swings, loss of concentration, low feelings about yourself and your baby, wanting to harm yourself or your baby, feeling useless, headaches and so on. The list is endless and some women only suffer a few where others may suffer lots of different ones.

PNI is often confused with the “baby blues” which occur straight after baby is born and are caused by the fluctuation of hormones as the body settles into post pregnancy mode, and often starts dealing with breastfeeding as well as coping with a tiny dependent newborn baby. However, if after a few months these teary episodes and anxiety doesn’t wear off then the mother should tell the professionals how she is feeling.

Treatment for PNI

Treatment for PNI comes in many forms from counseling, psychotherapy and medication. Alternative therapies such as reflexology, aromatherapy and acupuncture are said to help, but are in no way endorsed by the British Medical Association as a definitive cure. They do help the woman to relax and give herself some “me” time which is good in the long run.

Counseling comes in many forms too, from talking about past problems to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). It is a good form of psychotherapy which helps the new mother to think differently about her anxieties and depression. It doesn’t pinpoint past problems but focuses on the here and now and thinking differently. Thinking more positively about the situations she finds herself in.

Medication ranges from anti depressants to beta blockers to help with anxiety and insomnia. The GP will start the woman off on a low dosage of anti depressants and work with them to find the right level for. Anti depressants often take a couple of weeks to kick in and can make them feel worse before better but they should persevere so they can feel the benefits. Once they start to feel better about things the doctor will slowly wean them off them up to a year later.

Self Help Ideas

Use support groups around you – friends and family – to meet up, talk to and even leave baby with for an hour or so to give you some time out.

Go for a walk at least every day – wrap baby up warm (and yourself!) and take in some fresh air and exercise – good for both of you.

Join baby and toddler groups and meet some other new mums – you may be surprised how many others feel the same as you do, or are at least going through the same things as you so you can compare notes and have a laugh about it. At the same time baby is getting to socialize with other little people too.

Talk to your GP or use the internet to find support groups in your area. Websites such as or the National Childbirth Trust all have advice and support for PNI. is also a charity for women with postnatal depression from all over the world. Look up symptoms, advice, medications and join the forum to chat to other ladies who feel the same as you.

Support Networks

Support networks range from your immediate family to friends and support groups in your local area. PNI can put a lot of strain on a relationship and it takes a lot of patience and understanding from those closest to you while you are going through it. There will be good and bad days and they need to learn to recognize those as well as you. They need to learn not to take things personally and to let you get things out of your system safely and in comfort, to listen and to give you the reassurances or space that you need.

Your friends and other relatives can help out by perhaps babysitting for an afternoon to give you a break or help you get chores done. Some sufferers of PNI often stress about cleaning and tidying the house, so this would help that anxiety. Or for an evening so you and your partner can have some grown up time without baby.

You may feel unsure about admitting your illness to your friends and family but remember it is becoming more and more recognized and you may find people have more experience of it than you first thought. The main piece of advice given though is to be honest with yourself and your GP and get help if you need it, before things get too bad.


Association for Post Natal Illness

NHS website

The National Childbirth Trust.