You’re not alone: Depression and pregnancy

You’re not alone: Depression and pregnancy

Being pregnant, whether for the first time or if you’ve had several children, is a major life event that shouldn’t be underestimated.  

It is completely natural throughout your pregnancy and following giving birth to feel a host of different emotions all at once, and feel that life has turned completely on its head.  

Whether you are experiencing depression during pregnancy or feeling unhappy since giving birth, you are not alone. It is completely natural to feel this way and there is support available. We discuss depression during and after pregnancy, its symptoms and how you can access the right help and support.  

Depression during pregnancy: Antenatal depression 

It is natural to feel emotional when you are pregnant. However, if you’re feeling unhappy more than feeling happy, you could be experiencing depression during pregnancy. This is known as antenatal depression and be experienced by many expectant parents.  

What is antenatal depression?  

Antenatal depression is when women experience sadness along with other symptoms for weeks or months during their pregnancy. Symptoms of antenatal depression can vary from mild to severe and affect pregnant women in different ways.  

Depression during pregnancy is very common, with around one in every ten pregnant women experiencing antenatal depression during their pregnancy.  

It is crucial to understand that depression is a recognized mental health condition and not a sign of weakness. With the right support and care, it can be treated.  

Symptoms of antenatal depression  

Some mood changes are to be expected during your pregnancy, such as feeling more tired or more irritable than usual.  

However, if you are experiencing feelings of hopelessness or sadness all of the time, and are struggling to find pleasure and enjoyment in the things you used to do, it is important to seek help from your midwife or GP.  

While pregnant women will experience symptoms of antenatal depression at differing levels, the most common symptoms of antenatal depression are: 

  • Feeling sad, having a low mood, or feeling tearful the majority of the time 
  • Withdrawing from contact with others  
  • Getting angry easily or feeling irritable, stressed and anxious   
  • Losing interest in other people and struggling to enjoy life  
  • Change in eating habits (eating too little or too much) 
  • Losing your self-confidence 
  • Experiencing negative/frightening thoughts 
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions  
  • Feeling hopeless, guilty or blaming yourself unnecessarily  

Seeking help 

You should contact your GP immediately if:  

If you, or a friend or relative who is pregnant: 

  • Starts hearing or seeing things that are not real (hallucinations) 
  • Develops strong beliefs not shared by others (delusions) 

If it is not possible to contact a GP, call NHS 111 or your local out-of-hours service. 

Call 999 immediately if: 

  • You think there is a danger that you might harm yourself or others 
  • You are worried that someone else might harm themselves or others 

Remember, you are not alone and there is help and support available. 

With the right support, antenatal depression can be managed successfully.  

Depression during pregnancy: Postnatal depression 

If antenatal depression is not treated, symptoms could get worse and could result in continuing after your baby is born. This is known as postnatal depression.  

What is postnatal depression?  

Postnatal depression is a type of depression that many parents, including fathers and partners, experience after having a baby.  

Postnatal depression is common, affecting more than 1 in every 10 women within a year of giving birth.  

Symptoms of postnatal depression  

The symptoms of postnatal depression can usually start any time during the first year after giving birth.  

While it is common for many women to feel a bit tearful, down or anxious in the first week or so after giving birth (the baby blues), this shouldn’t last any more than 2 weeks after giving birth. If your symptoms last longer or start later, you could potentially have postnatal depression.  

Postnatal depression can develop gradually, leading to many new parents not realizing they have the condition.  

Common symptoms of postnatal depression are: 

  • Feeling sad, having a low mood, or feeling tearful the majority of the time 
  • Withdrawing from contact with others  
  • Lack of energy/feeling lethargic all the time  
  • Finding it challenging looking after yourself and your baby  
  • Sleep disturbances – such as trouble sleeping at night or feeling tired during the day
  • Getting angry easily or feeling irritable and agitated
  • Losing interest in other people and struggling to enjoy life
  • Change in eating habits (eating too little or too much)
  • Losing your self-confidence
  • Experiencing negative/frightening thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feeling hopeless, guilty or blaming yourself unnecessarily  

What shall I do if I think I have antenatal or postnatal depression?  

It is important to get help as soon as possible if you think you might have antenatal or postnatal depression. If not treated, antenatal depression can develop into postnatal depression once your baby is born.

If you think you might be depressed, speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor as soon as possible.

Many midwives and health visitors are specially trained to identify postnatal depression symptoms and have techniques that can help to support you.

Treatment options

The treatment options for depression (antenatal or postnatal) vary from person to person and are judged on a case-by-case basis.  

They usually take the form of a combination of: 

  • Self-help (below) 
  • Talking therapies (such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or counseling) 
  • Prescribed medication/antidepressants  

Treatment options offered to you will vary greatly on several factors, including: 

  • What is best for your stage of pregnancy 
  • The severity of your symptoms 
  • Any medication risks to you or your baby 

Your GP will help you decide what the most appropriate form of treatment will be and the best route to take to support you.  

Self-help 

There are some self-help tips that you could find effective in supporting you through your antenatal or postnatal depression. These include: 

  • Talking about how you feel with your partner, family and close friends 
  • Understand that these feelings are not your fault, and try not to feel ashamed or guilty 
  • Resting whenever you are able 
  • Making time for yourself to do things you enjoy 
  • Avoid alcohol or smoking – this can harm your baby and make you feel worse  
  • Regularly exercise as much as you can – this will release endorphins that can lift your mood  
  • Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet

Seeking help 

Recognizing there is a problem and seeking help is the first big step when it comes to antenatal and postnatal depression.  

Whether it is confiding in your partner or close friend, or talking to your midwife, health visitor or GP – there are people to talk to and those that care. You are not alone.



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