Understanding Postnatal Depression

Updated February 21, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The first thing you need to know about understanding postnatal depression is that you are not a bad person if you find yourself feeling extreme sorrow after what is “supposed” to be one of the most joyful moments of your life. Having postnatal depression does not mean that you do not love your child or that people will think you do not love your child. There are many factors out of your control that can initiate postnatal depression, including the reality that your body has recently gone through dramatic physical, emotional, and hormonal changes. Giving birth is a major life event – it takes time to heal the various systems of the body that have adapted to growing a new life form for the past nine months.

Most Parents Experience Post-Natal Depression After Childbirth

The Difference Between Postnatal And Postpartum Depression

Many parents feel confused or upset when they have depression and symptoms of mental illness after their child is born. They think this is supposed to be a happy time, so why am I feeling depressed? Maybe this wasn't what I wanted after all? Try to maintain a positive outlook, and know that it takes time to adjust to a change, even with the emotional support of family and friends.

Causes Of Postnatal Depression

Your body is going through a lot, so it's understandable if, once the massive process of delivery has completed, your hormones are out of balance. You're welcoming a new little person to your home, losing sleep, and experiencing a disruption in your routine. All of that represents a lot to balance for anyone, let alone someone whose body is recovering from childbirth and might be experiencing changes in weight.

While the cause of postnatal depression is not entirely clear, experts believe that it is the result of hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and after the baby is born. There are also several factors that may determine whether parents are more susceptible to developing antenatal, postnatal, or postpartum depression, like the following:

  • A history of mental health issues or illness, like depression or panic attacks

  • A history of mental health issues during prior pregnancies

  • A lack of a strong support network, including an unsupportive partner

  • A stressful life event, like the loss of a job or the death of a loved one

  • Health problems with your baby or problems breastfeeding

  • Financial difficulties 

Symptoms Of Postnatal Depression

The best way to tell whether you have postnatal or postpartum depression is to evaluate your symptoms for appropriate treatment. Postnatal depression usually sets in around the fourth or fifth day after you give birth, and it can last up to a few days or the first few weeks. Over time, your symptoms may lessen, and you will likely start feeling better after about two weeks. Postpartum depression, however, can be more severe and last much longer.

The symptoms of postnatal depression include examples below:

  • Unexplainable bouts of crying

  • Irritability

  • Anxiety

  • Fatigue or, ironically, difficulty sleeping

  • Mood changes

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Changes in libido

At least half – and likely more -- of all new parents experience postnatal depression. It's important for partners to stay united during this time. If postnatal depression does not pass on its own and is left untreated, it can develop into something more serious: postpartum depression. Certain symptoms may indicate that postnatal depression has evolved into a more serious form of postpartum depression:

  • Overwhelming feelings of sorrow, guilt, or worthlessness

  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby and difficulty bonding with your baby

  • Lack of appetite

  • Fatigue or lack of energy combined with inability to sleep

  • Withdrawal from friends and family

Because the symptoms of postpartum depression can vary widely, it is strongly recommended that a person who experiences these symptoms speak with their doctor regarding treatment, as others might not understand what they’re going through. Treatment typically includes therapy and sometimes medication, like antidepressants, to help manage the condition.

Antenatal Depression

You may not be familiar with antenatal depression, but this is another form of depression that can occur with pregnancy. The difference here is that it manifests while you are still pregnant. Other than that, antenatal depression is the same thing as postnatal depression; the only difference is when they occur.

As with all other forms of depression, it is important that antenatal depression is treated if the signs are present. The presence of this form of depression in particular, however, can signal the development of more severe depression later on if left untreated.

Most Parents Experience Post-Natal Depression After Childbirth

Experts believe that anywhere between ten and 20 percent of parents are affected by antenatal depression. Some believe that what they're going through is a normal part of the pregnancy process, but this and other forms of depression are not. That's why symptoms should be treated as soon as they present themselves. Your OBGYN is likely to ask you questions about how you are feeling. Be honest with them and let them help you decide what is to be expected as a part of pregnancy and what is not, as it can be confusing to determine on your own.

Forms Of Treatment

For a new parent, it's not always so easy to get out of the house. Now you have to worry about finding a babysitter on top of everything else. But if you're experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, it's important that you seek out help sooner rather than later. Here are some possible options for seeking support.


You can start with some self care or enroll in an online course to see if learning new strategies can help. Try discussing what's bothering you with your partner, a family, or a friend. Let them know what they can do to help you, including affording you some time to take a bath, watch a movie, or whatever it is you need to get back on track and feel refreshed. Reaching out to family and friends can be a great way to find support. Friends and family affected by postnatal depression themselves can often offer support. There is a good chance that you know someone who has been affected by postnatal depression. Just like pregnant people talk about pregnancy, so to can people offer support after.

Rest whenever you can and sleep when your baby sleeps. It will be a little while before your baby has a "normal" sleeping schedule, and they may sleep a lot during the day and less at night, so it is important that you rest when you can so you are able to be awake when your baby is without being as sleep deprived.

Make sure you're eating right, too. Even if you have to make something quick in those early days of infancy, make sure that what you're making is healthy. Grab a banana instead of a candy bar, or a protein bar instead of fast food.

It may be difficult to find the time, but exercise is also important. If the weather is nice, your baby will likely be agreeable to resting in their stroller while you walk around the neighborhood. You can also do some gentle yoga while your baby naps. Your baby might also find it interesting to watch you do some gentle yoga from their swing or bouncy seat.


If you've tried everything to help yourself and you're still not feeling any better, you may want to try professional therapy. A therapist can recommend a different course of coping skills, advice, or ideas, and it may just be helpful to have an objective professional there to listen to your frustrations and offer some new perspective.

Your therapist might also engage you in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is one of many types of therapy where you essentially reprogram your brain so that you respond differently and more productively in certain situations. For instance, maybe the sound of your baby's crying makes you feel stressed out, angry, or frustrated that you can't figure out what's wrong. Your therapist will help you retrain your mind to remember that when a baby cries, it's because they have no other way of telling you what's wrong and that something is bothering them. They're not just doing it to annoy you. They need something, and this is the only way they can tell you.

You'll develop a more effective way to identify feelings and begin a path towards recovery. They might also be able to helpful resources and information specific to treatments and options. 

New parents in particular may benefit from accessing online therapy for postpartum depression. With platforms like BetterHelp, you can connect to a licensed therapist from the comfort of your own bedroom or any location with a reliable internet connection. You can also schedule your appointments at times that work for your schedule, like when you know your baby is going to lie down for a nap. No need to change your outfit, take a shower, get in the car, and pay for a babysitter to get the help you need. You can attain the same level of professional and empathetic care, and often at a reduced cost when compared to in-person therapy.

Online therapy has shown strong efficacy in supporting parents going through post-natal depression and post-partum depression. In a recent study, 24 participants who were experiencing the symptoms of PPD following childbirth completed a therapy-assisted internet cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT) intervention, and most reported that the program granted them flexibility, accessibility, and convenience. They also overwhelmingly valued their relationship with their internet therapist. In a separate systematic literature review, researchers examined the effectiveness of various telehealth interventions in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in people with PPD and established that internet-based interventions could effectively reduce these symptoms.


Sometimes depression is the result of a chemical imbalance, and no matter how you try to fix it from the outside, you won't start feeling better unless you approach it from the inside. This is where medication prescribed by health care providers comes in for new parents.

Your doctor may suggest medication in conjunction with the therapy so that you can remedy the problem from multiple angles. Your doctor may prescribe medication to help you feel less anxious or less sad. If you're breastfeeding and worried about taking something that you can pass to the baby in your milk, your doctor can recommend a medication that is considered safe to take during this time.

Dispelled Myths About Postnatal Depression

Postnatal depression is just as serious as other forms of depression, so don't let anyone downplay what you're feeling or try to convince you to just "shake it off." After all, it might be hard to make decisions or feel engaged in your relationship when experiencing depression. There are so many things that factor into the development of postnatal depression that it isn't possible to "shake them off." For example, you might be experiencing isolation, new intrusive feelings of sadness, or low energy.

While much research has been done on the matter, there is no evidence to suggest that you can control whether you develop postnatal depression. The best thing you can do for yourself while you're pregnant is to eat well, exercise, and maintain a healthy lifestyle (no smoking, no drugs, no alcohol, etc.). While these activities can lower a person's risk, they likely cannot eliminate cases of postnatal depression altogether.


It is important to remember that just because postnatal depression can go away within two weeks of giving birth, doesn’t mean it always will pass in that time frame. If you notice your symptoms continuing or getting worse as a new parent, then you should seek help before your condition gets any worse. Whether you seek support from your OBGYN or an online therapist, both can offer professional guidance for addressing mental health problems like depression, ranging from spells of unexplained emotions, panic attacks, mood swings, trauma, or other disorders. Take the first step in getting the support you deserve by completing the initial questionnaire on BetterHelp today. Within 48 hours, you will be matched with a counselor who is uniquely qualified to assist you with your challenges.

Frequently Asked Questions:

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