Perinatal depression

parent and baby

What is perinatal depression?

Perinatal depression is the collective name for depression which occurs either during pregnancy (known as antenatal depression), or after the birth of a baby (known as postnatal depression or PND). Fathers can also feel depressed after the birth of a baby. Read our page on men and postnatal depression if you are affected.

“You think you should be happy because you’ve got a baby and everyone else is happy, but you’re not coping.”

Postnatal depression isn’t the baby blues

Almost half of new mothers experience the ‘baby blues’ in the days following birth. This might be feeling tearful, low or irritable, but should improve within 2 weeks. If low feelings do continue after the first few weeks or get worse, you should talk to your health visitor, midwife or GP as you may be experiencing depression.

Postnatal depression (PND) is very different from the ‘baby blues’. This can start at any time in the days or months following birth and will typically last for a lot longer – sometimes a few months or possibly as long as a year. It is relatively common, affecting 10%-15% of new mums. It is important to remember that, as with any type of depression, it is treatable and most people do recover.

Symptoms of depression

Symptoms for perinatal or postnatal depression are similar to other forms of depression with the added factor of feelings about your baby. Symptoms may be:

  • Feeling low or constant sadness without reason
  • Feeling like a failure or guilty that you are the only mother who doesn’t cope
  • Not being able to sleep even though you are exhausted
  • Not feeling like eating or neglecting your hygiene or appearance
  • Feeling anxious and worried over problems that seem too big
  • Not being interested in the baby, or feeling that you can’t cope
  • Feeling like you have no energy.

For more general information visit our page on the symptoms of depression.

I spent the first few months feeling disappointed and guilty and felt frustrated by the demands of my baby. I had turned into a person I barely recognised. I kept telling myself I should just get over it. This was how it was going to be, and yet that made me feel worse. Slowly things began to get better. I found myself crying less and beginning to enjoy life again. It was such a relief to find that life could be different and that I was going to get through this.”

What can cause depression during and after pregnancy?

  • Changes in hormones that happen during pregnancy and childbirth
  • Lack of confidence. Looking after your baby can be a very steep learning curve. It isn’t always easy adapting to the new, and very different, role of being a parent
  • Change in identify.We all have different roles in our lives: from daughter, to partner, to friend, to worker. Becoming a mother may change how you see yourself, and in some cases, how others see you
  • Money worries.There can be financial loss from leaving work and costs associated with the baby’s needs
  • Loss of personal time. Your daily life will change considerably and you will have a lot less free-time and space to do things you used to do. Your sleep will typically also be interrupted to care for and feed your baby.

Other contributing factors can include:

  • A difficult pregnancy and/or a difficult labour
  • Changes in your body both during and after pregnancy which can affect your body image
  • Problems breast feeding or other difficulties learning new techniques and routines
  • A baby who cries a lot or doesn’t settle
  • Your own unresolved issues, childhood trauma or previous experience of depression
  • The fear of not being a good mother and fear that your baby will be taken into care
  • Not having people you can get support from.

Peurperal psychosis

About 1 mother in every 1000 may develop an illness called puerperal psychosis in the first few weeks after birth. Puerperal psychosis is a mood disorder where the new mother can have strange thoughts and behaviour including hallucinating or believing things that are not real. Mothers with PND should not be worried that their depression could develop into puerperal psychosis, but as with any concerns about your wellbeing, talk to your health visitor or GP if you have any worries.

If I ask for help will I have my baby taken away from me?

Many women who contact us are worried that if they talk to their GP about these feelings they may have their children taken away from them. This is not the case – your GP is there to support you and to help you find the best treatment to make you feel better. Your GP will most probably see the fact you have asked for support as a sign that you’re a responsible parent who wants to get well and be able to look after your child.

Getting help

Remember depression is very treatable with the right help and support. Talk to your health visitor or contact one of the following organisations:

The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Project or 0131 538 7288

Provides a range of services including individual counselling, therapy groups, father’s groups, crèche facilities, art therapy, infant massage and telephone support.


HAPIS provide support and information for mothers in the Highlands who are affected by antenatal or postnatal depression. They offer telephone support, home visits, weekly meeting and GP visits.

National Childbirth Trust (NCT) or 0300 330 0773

The NCT runs a number of different phonelines including a Pregnancy & Birth Line on 0300 300 0772 or Postnatal Line on 0300 300 0773.

Parentline Scotland

0808 800 2222

A helpline open to anyone in Scotland who would like to talk about any parenting issues they have, including postnatal depression.

Association for Postnatal Illness or 0207 7386 0868

Provides information and telephone support for women who are experiencing any form of postnatal depression, and given by women who have experienced this themselves.

The National Childbirth Trust (NCT)

Run classes and courses to help new mothers and can put you in touch with other mums in your area. Visit their website for more information.

Can Action on Depression help?

For further assistance visit the Action on Depression Support Services section. You can also email us and we will respond as soon as possible.