Postnatal depression

Depression can make it hard to bond with your baby (pēpi)

It’s normal for mothers to experience a brief low mood shortly after the birth of a baby (pēpi). People call this the 'baby blues'. Depression is different because it lasts longer.

What is postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression affects up to 15 percent of mothers after they have given birth and up to 9 percent of women during pregnancy. Depression can happen any time during pregnancy or up to a year after pēpi is born. It can also occur after a miscarriage.

The symptoms of postnatal depression usually start within a first few months of the birth. You may not seem interested in your pēpi or in other members of your whānau, or you may find it difficult to do everyday tasks. 

Dads can also experience depression at this time, especially if their partner is depressed. Depression in new fathers is often not recognised and is not usually called 'postnatal depression'.  

The warning signs

Symptoms of postnatal depression are similar to depression at other times. They include feeling sad (pouri) most of the time and losing interest in things that were once enjoyable. The symptoms might include:

  • feeling worthless, hopeless, useless (koretake) 
  • feeling so sad (pōuri) that eating and sleeping patterns change
  • blaming yourself when things go wrong, even if it's not your fault
  • feeling anxious, panicky or overwhelmed – especially regarding your pēpi
  • having thoughts of suicide that may include hurting your pēpi
  • not feeling close to your pēpi and other whānau members.
Mother and child holding hands

What contributes to postnatal depression?

Just like other types of depression, there is no simple reason as to why some women experience postnatal depression and others don’t. 

Experiencing depression at some time in the past, particularly during the pregnancy, is the single biggest risk factor for postnatal depression. But this doesn’t mean that if you have a history of depression you’ll always develop postnatal depression.  

Some of the factors that could put you at a higher risk of postnatal depression include:

  • depression or persistent distress in this or in a past pregnancy
  • family (whānau) history of depression
  • being young (under 20)
  • being unmarried or without partner support
  • limited support from parents as a child
  • limited support from friends and whānau
  • challenging relationship with partner
  • worries about money or housing
  • low self-esteem.

What can help?

If you’re worried about postnatal depression talk to your doctor, midwife, Well Child provider or Plunket nurse.

Call Healthline 0800 611 116. 

Call Plunketline 0800 933 922.

If you want to talk (kōrero) to a trained counsellor about how you’re feeling, or you’ve got any questions, you can call the Depression Helpline 0800 111 757.

A healthy mother is key for baby’s health, both during pregnancy and afterwards. It’s very important for both you and your baby that you get the right help to get well. If you don’t get help the first time you ask, ask again, or find someone else who will listen.

Talking therapy can help a lot with depression during pregnancy and once pēpi has been born. Your doctor or a counsellor can also put you in touch with the many other kinds of support (tautoko) that are available.

Medication can also be very important in getting through postnatal depression. Recent studies have found that some medications are safe and can be effective. For most people, the antidepressants called Citalopram and Sertraline have few side effects and can be taken while you’re pregnant or breast-feeding. The decision to use medication is up to you and it’s something your doctor can help you to decide.


What next?

There are many things you can do to help get through this.

How to get better

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