Post natal depression What is going on

Having a baby is one of the biggest life-changing events we ever have. It can be a time of great joy but also one of real stress. And it is not unusual for new parents to feel down after the birth.

Most new mothers ‘come down’ after the big emotion of the birth. These ‘baby blues' go away within a few days. The dad can help by offering support, reassurance and practical help. She will need regular meals and rest … whether she wants or asks for these or not.

Around 1-in-7 new mothers develop postnatal depression within a few months after the birth. There's no real difference between postnatal depression and other depression, but the experience of having a new baby makes depression more likely at this time.

What this also means … is that 1 of every 7 new dads has a partner who feels miserable quite a lot of the time! And chances are he has little support.

Post-natal depression is not just difficult for the parents – it can impact on the baby.


It varies from person to person, but typically a person may feel hopelessness, guilty, irritable or overly worried about the baby. A woman may think she can't cope or she feels useless. 

Someone who is depressed can feel tense and extremely tired. Sometimes a person can't even get out of bed. Or if they do get out of bed they can hardly do anything.

Depression can make a person feel suicidal.

You are more likely than anyone else to be aware of your partner's state of mind. If you have concerns, talk to someone who might help … there is a list below. 


A depressed mother is unlikely to be able to give the baby the attention he needs. If your baby doesn't get the eye contact, the holding and caring touching,  then his brain isn't being stimulated. A baby’s brain needs this stimulation. If it doesn't get it, it can affect the development of the baby's brain.



She might feel embarrassed. She may think it means she doesn't love her baby.

It’s not her fault. Depression after the birth is common and is nothing to be ashamed of. And she might not able to reason  well or seek help without some help.



Telling her 'Pull 'your socks and get on with the job!' is not an effective strategy - it will only make her feel a failure or make her try to hide it.

As her partner, you have a crucial role in helping her get better. She will need emotional support and help to get things done around the home. And some of this is going to have to come from you.

Depressed people tend to be very self-critical so it’s important for you to be a positive voice that is encouraging.

Listen and try to understand her. It's okay to talk together about how hard it is to cope with a new baby. It is a tough job and there's no sense in glossing over it and pretending it's a piece of cake.

You don’t have to come up with solutions. She may just need you to listen.

You may feel resentful at being expected to do so much more housework while your partner is depressed and appears she is doing bugger-all. If you have other children, then you are going to feel very stretched. Your resentment will be understandable and normal. But man-up, don't take it out on her.

Remember to take care of yourself, too. Cut down on your commitments. But don't lose contact with friends or family. Neither of you should get isolated from your friends.

If your partner is depressed and you're finding it hard, it may be helpful to talk about how you feel to a friend or family member away from your partner.


There is professional help for post natal depression …

  • your midwife, your GP,
  • your partner's doctor
  • the neonatal unit at the hospital
  • the Plunket nurse
  • parenting support services that are available in most communities


Men get post-natal depression, too. It’s not ridiculous or that uncommon. 3% to 10% of new fathers get depressed following the birth.

The symptoms can include feeling very low, not enjoying anything, poor concentration, poor appetite and worrying at night. The future may look bleak and you may feel things are never going to get better.

Postnatal depression is more common among men who have been depressed before … or whose partner is suffering from depression.

Having a new baby is a huge change and challenge for any father. It carries new responsibilities and sometimes feeling exhausted. It can be particularly difficult to balance the demands of work and fatherhood … and a man may pressure himself to earn more while his partner isn’t working.

A man may feel depressed and withdrawn because of the changes in his relationship with his partner. If this is your first baby, before the birth it would have been mostly just you and your partner. But once the baby comes, most of your partner's attention will shift to the baby. This loss of your partner's attention can feel like a loss. Hang in there, it'll get better!

And if you are depressed, talking about it is better than holding it in. One place to start is your GP.            




Dealing with depression may not be as easy as this comic shows - but there are things you can do things about it. Talk to friends, family and whanau … and exercise. These are good.


There are no guarantees about avoiding post-natal depression for either of you – but a good quality partner relationship where you can both talk honestly is helpful.

For women…

Women are more likely to get depression if the man is unavailable around the time of the birth and she feels he isn’t providing emotional or practical support that makes her think 'we're in this thing together'. This can mean she doesn’t see him helping enough with the baby.

A mother is more likely to become depressed if her partner holds to rigid gender-role expectations … like, she is expected to do all the meals and all housework while he goes to work.

A woman can get depressed if her partner is critical, coercive or violent … even sometimes.

And a new mum can get depressed for no reason she or anyone else can easily see.

For men…

Men are more likely to get depression if they feel isolated. This can include a lack of quality in the couple relationship or a lack of closeness and honesty with his friendships.

A dad who feels supported by his partner … and finds ways of caring for his baby his own way … is less likely to develop depression.

A dads group can help a man cope with his own or his partner’s postnatal depression. Ask around at Plunket or Barnardos or at church if there is a fathers' group in your area.



Don't try to ignore these feelings and soldier on.

Resorting to drinking or other drugs, or burying yourself in work will not solve depression. Remember … your health is important not only to you but to your baby and to your partner.

Don't wait to be asked by the Plunket nurse or your GP about how well you're feeling or coping. Their focus is generally on the baby and mum - and no one may ever ask you how you are coping.

Ex-All Black John Kirwan is fronting a campaign to help people with depression at Have a look.

You're more likely to recover quickly from depression if you acknowledge the problem and actively seek help. Ask for support or practical help from family or friends and consult your GP.

With depression, the sooner you begin to deal with it, the quicker and easier it is to get out from under it.

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