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Postnatal Depression (Postpartum Depression)

A type of clinical depression that occurs after childbirth.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Postnatal Depression (Postpartum Depression)

Pregnant women usually expect the days and weeks following the birth of their child to be a happy time. But many have also heard of severe mood swings that often start a few days after giving birth, known as the baby blues. If the sadness does not go away, it might be the start of a depression.

Depression after childbirth is called postnatal (or postpartum) depression. It is quite similar to the kind of depression that can affect people in any phase of life. Except for one major difference: mothers often feel very guilty about not being able to care for their baby because they are so unwell. Many mothers feel too ashamed to speak with others about how they are feeling. They are afraid of not living up to the idea of a "good mother" and might become more and more withdrawn. Some women say that they no longer recognized themselves.

Taking care of a newborn baby is a real challenge. Some women do not get the emotional and practical help that they need. It is not always easy to deal with all of the changes that need to be made to care full-time for a new baby. Coping with the everyday stress and getting used to your new life can be very difficult — and sometimes it may even be depressing... Read more about Postnatal Depression

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Depression: The Treatment and Management of Depression in Adults (Updated Edition)

This clinical guideline on depression is an updated edition of the previous guidance (published in 2004). It was commissioned by NICE and developed by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, and sets out clear, evidence- and consensus-based recommendations for healthcare staff on how to treat and manage depression in adults.

Depression in Children and Young People: Identification and Management in Primary, Community and Secondary Care

This guideline has been developed to advise on the identification and management of depression in children and young people in primary, community and secondary care. The guideline recommendations have been developed by a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, carers, and guideline methodologists after careful consideration of the best available evidence. It is intended that the guidelines will be useful to clinicians and service commissioners in providing and planning high-quality care for children and young people with depression while also emphasising the importance of the experience of care for patients and their families.

Screening for postnatal depression: is it acceptable to women and healthcare professionals? A systematic review and meta-synthesis

Bibliographic details: Brealey SD, Hewitt C, Green JM, Morrell J, Gilbody S.  Screening for postnatal depression: is it acceptable to women and healthcare professionals? A systematic review and meta-synthesis. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology 2010; 28(4): 328-344

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Summaries for consumers

Antidepressant prevention of postnatal depression

Postnatal depression is a common and important disorder with negative implications for the mother, the infant and the wider family. Women who are not depressed, but at high risk of postnatal depression, such as those with a previous history of a postpartum mood disorder, may wish to consider antidepressant prevention during pregnancy or early postpartum. This review addresses the effectiveness of such treatment. Only two small trials met the criteria for inclusion. Both trials used medication immediately postpartum. The drugs were nortriptyline, a tricylic antidepressant (TCA) and sertraline, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Both drugs were compared only to placebo. Nortripyline was not shown to have any benefit over placebo; there was some evidence that sertraline was effective both in reducing the incidence of recurrent postpartum depression and in increasing the time to recurrence. However, both trials involved only very small numbers of women and did not use intention to treat analyses. There is, therefore, no clear evidence for the use of these antidepressants in the prevention of postnatal depression.

Psychosocial and psychological interventions for postpartum depression

Postpartum depression affects approximately 13% of all new mothers. Many women desire to try treatment options other than medication. Results from nine trials involving 956 women found that both psychosocial (e.g., peer support, non‐directive counselling) and psychological (e.g., cognitive behavioural therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy) interventions appear to be effective in reducing symptoms of postpartum depression. The long‐term benefits are unknown. Larger trials evaluating psychosocial and psychological treatments for postpartum depression are needed to provide clear conclusions about specific intervention benefits.

Dietary supplements for preventing postnatal depression

Postnatal depression is a common condition that affects women and may impact on their babies. Common symptoms of postnatal depression include fluctuations in mood, mood changes, suicidal ideation and preoccupation with infant well‐being ranging from over‐concern to frank delusions. There is currently not much evidence regarding interventions that might prevent or treat postnatal depression. A diet lacking in certain vitamins, minerals or other nutrients may cause postnatal depression in some women. Correcting this deficiency with dietary supplements might therefore prevent postnatal depression. Examples of possible dietary supplements aimed at preventing postnatal depression include omega‐3 fatty acids, iron, folate, s‐adenosyl‐L‐methionine, vitamin B12 (cobalamin), B6 (pyridoxine), B2 (riboflavin), vitamin D and calcium.

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More about Postnatal Depression

Photo of a young adult woman

Also called: Puerperal depression, Post-partum depression, Post-natal depression, PPD

Other terms to know:
Depression, Major Depression (Major Depressive Disorder), Pregnancy (Gestation)

Related articles:
Depression After Childbirth: Treatment Approaches

Keep up with systematic reviews on Postnatal Depression:


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