According to the NHS, postnatal depression affects more than one in every 10 women within a year of giving birth. It can also be possible for fathers and partners to experience the condition. Pink Parcel speak to Dr. Mark Silvert, Clinical Director at The Blue Tree Clinic, to get the lowdown on postnatal depression and separate the myths from the facts when it comes to the baby blues.
Do you think there are any factors that could make some women more prone to postnatal depression?
"There’s nothing in literature that suggests there are any biological factors. We know that if we account for age, race and things like that, there’s nothing specific that would tell us why someone could get postnatal depression.
Things that can contribute are having a prior history of depression, being depressed during your pregnancy, stressful situations and life events, and also possibly, a genetic predisposition. If you suffer from postnatal depression once, you are also more likely to get it in the future with another child."
Symptoms of postnatal depression
- Feeling sad and tearful
- General low mood
- Possible loss of appetite
- A feeling of guilt
- Suicidal thoughts
How long does postnatal depression last?
"Postnatal depression can start at any time within the first year of giving birth. There’s no typical answer to how long it lasts but it can go on for weeks or months."
Are there any ways to prevent postnatal depression?
"The more that you can avoid stress and anxious situations, the less likely it is that you will suffer from a post-natal depression, so just try and get support if you think that you are at risk. If you’ve had depression in the past, you’re at a greater risk, and if you’ve had postnatal depression before, you’re at a much higher risk, so just be prepared for it and make sure your family are aware... make sure you have a doctor.
Often people come and see me and say: 'I’ve had postnatal depression before and I just want to link up with a psychiatrist because I didn’t have anyone in my last pregnancy and then I got really depressed, and had to quickly find a GP who knew about depression. If I get depressed this time, I know that I can call you and get in touch to see you within a few days'."
What treatment options would you recommend for a patient with postnatal depression?
"I would recommend antidepressant medication, such as starting them on a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, commonly known as an SSRI or other antidepressant medications that might help them. And, of course, some supportive therapy, as well. Therapy and medication used together can be helpful."
Is there any medication suitable for women who are breastfeeding?
"Women that are breastfeeding can use antidepressant medication, and we know that the risks are low to the baby, but ideally, I would say that you find out from your doctor what the risks are of the medication they're proposing and make a balanced decision. You could always think about bottle feeding.
If you’re going to get better from medication, that – I think, is going to be better for the baby and create more of a positive bonding experience with a healthy mother than an unhealthy mother that’s trying to bond with her baby through breastfeeding, even though she’s feeling depressed.
There’s a lot of stigma and guilt about not breastfeeding, which is a shame, because if you are depressed, I think it’s better for the baby not to receive medication through breast milk and bottle feed the baby, instead."
Can postnatal depression affect men?
"I think it can definitely affect men but for different reasons. A new father can be struggling from stress, lack of sleep, difficulty managing the arrival of a new baby... and that could make him feel depressed. Whereas, for women we know that there are hormonal changes and probably chemical changes in the brain, as a result of the fluctuating hormones after birth...
But men can definitely get a postnatal depression if they feel that their life has been radically changed, they’re not sleeping and the weight of responsibility is heavy, things like that. Having a baby can be very stressful, it can be great, but it can also be very stressful for people. Men could get postnatal depression but for a different set of reasons as there's not the same chemical imbalance."
Is extreme anxiety after giving birth a symptom of postnatal depression?
Anxiety can be closely linked with depression, however, there is a separate condition known as postnatal anxiety.
Symptoms of postnatal anxiety
- Fear and worry that seems to take over
- Feeling irritable, restless or constantly ‘on edge’
- A racing heart
- Panic attacks
- Extreme thoughts, such as thinking that you are not a capable mother or are not doing things right
- An overwhelming feeling that something terrible could happen
- Being unable to sleep well, even when you get the chance
- Avoiding situations due to irrational fears
Dr. Silvert is a Registered General Adult Psychiatrist who has worked in both the NHS and the private sector. The Blue Tree Clinic's team of expert psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists are available to treat a range of therapy areas and mental health conditions.