What are the signs and symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression?

Postnatal depression and anxiety (PNDA) can be devastating and debilitating illnesses that can persist and affect not just a new mother but everyone around her. It is not a modern condition. Each generation calls it something different. What we call PNDA today may have been called a 'nervous breakdown' fifty years ago.

PNDA can be mild, moderate or severe and symptoms can begin suddenly after birth or appear gradually in the weeks or months during the first year after birth.

PNDA occurs in all cultures and can happen to child bearing women of all ages. Pregnancy is the common factor. It can happen after miscarriage or stillbirth, normal or traumatic delivery, or caesarean delivery. PNDA happens not only after a first baby. It can occur after a third or fifth baby. Sometimes it happens after a first baby only. Sometimes it happens with a third baby, but not with the first two. Sometimes it happens after each pregnancy.

A woman who has had PND has an increased chance of recurrence with a subsequent pregnancy. If a woman becomes pregnant again before recovering from PNDA, the condition might continue through the pregnancy and may worsen. It is advisable for the woman to delay another pregnancy until she has recovered.

Symptoms of Postnatal Anxiety and Depression

The severity of PNDA depends on the number of symptoms, their intensity and the extent to which they interfere with normal functioning. PNDA tends to be characterized by a combination of the following symptoms. The combination and severity of symptoms will be different for every woman, resulting in many different appearances of PNDA.

• Panic attacks (a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
• Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health or wellbeing of baby
• The development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours
• Increased sensitivity to noise or touch
• Changes in appetite: under or overeating
• Sleep problems unrelated to the baby’s needs
• Extreme lethargy: a feeling of being physically or emotionally overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands of chores and looking after baby
• Memory problems or loss of concentration (‘brain fog’)
• Loss of confidence and lowered self esteem
• Constant sadness or crying
• Withdrawal from friends and family
• Fear of being alone with baby
• Intrusive thoughts of harm to yourself or baby
• Irritability and/or anger
• Increased alcohol or drug use
• Loss of interest in sex or previously enjoyed activities
• Thoughts of death or suicide
Some women sum it all up by saying "There is no joy in anything anymore", and "I feel like I have lost myself".

For more information view our Anxiety & Depression in Pregnancy and Early Parenthood factsheet.

While PANDA has exercised due care in ensuring the accuracy of the material contained on this website, the information is made available on the basis that PANDA is not providing professional advice on a particular matter. This website is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.