Postnatal depression

People may feel depressed at any point in their lives, but depression affects 10 to 15% of women who have recently had a baby. This is called postnatal depression.

Experiencing postnatal depression can mean you feel unhappy, tearful, irritable, hopeless and anxious. It may make you feel very negative about yourself and your ability as a mother and it can make you feel guilty for not feeling good about having a new baby. You may feel that you want to avoid other people. 

New mothers often feel anxious about their baby’s health and their skills as a mother. If you have postnatal depression, these worries can be very difficult to cope with.

With the right treatment and care, women with HIV can have a baby without passing on HIV. Preventing transmission involves taking HIV treatment during your pregnancy and not breastfeeding, as HIV can be passed on in breast milk. Mothers sometimes worry about whether their baby has been infected or find it difficult to give their baby formula milk. With postnatal depression, these worries can feel overwhelming.

When does it develop?

More than 50% of women who have recently had a baby experience something called the ‘baby blues’, which can make them feel low, irritable and anxious. This isn’t the same as postnatal depression. The baby blues usually occur a few days after the baby is born and last about a week. They are thought to be a result of hormonal changes in the body after childbirth.

Postnatal depression typically begins within the first eight weeks of giving birth, but it can occur later. 

Women with postnatal depression often don’t realise that’s why they are feeling so unhappy and unable to cope.

Support from family and friends can be an important part of recovering from postnatal depression, so it’s a good idea to talk to someone you trust about your feelings. Ask for help from your partner, family or friends, particularly with things like household chores and looking after older children, and take the opportunity to rest and sleep when you can.

You and your doctor

Talk to your GP, midwife or health visitor if you think you might have postnatal depression. Mothers often worry that their baby may be taken away from them if they say they are not coping, but health professionals will want to support you to look after your baby.

Talking to a health visitor or another health professional can help you to understand how you are feeling. They will also know of any support groups in the area, which may help. 

Your GP may recommend talking therapies or treatment with antidepressants, or may suggest other forms of self-help.

If you are experiencing postnatal depression, it’s a good idea to let your HIV doctor know too. Feeling depressed can also affect how you feel about HIV treatment and your ability to take your drugs as prescribed, so it’s important that you and your doctor talk about how you feel.

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this section.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.