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Last Updated: Monday, 23 October 2006, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
When depression follows childbirth
A woman has been spared jail after she admitted to infanticide.

Danielle Wails denied murdering her baby son, Alexander Gallon, but her guilty plea to infanticide was accepted by the court after psychiatrists said she was suffering from post-natal depression.

It is not yet clear what form of depression Danielle was suffering from. But there are a number of ways women's metal health can be affected by childbirth.

baby
The mental illness some have is very different to 'baby blues'

Having a baby is expected to be a source of joy for a new mother.

But for many women the first few weeks of their child's life is an anxious time. A lot of mothers can suffer the "baby blues", which pass after a few days.

One in 10 women suffers from clinically defined postnatal depression, usually when their baby is between four and six months old, although it can happen at any point in the child's first year.

It can be sudden or develop over time; be minor or very severe.

It is a depression like any other, but a woman's feelings of inadequacy and inability to cope can affect her relationship with her baby.

Women can feel despondent or lethargic; they may feel inadequate as mothers and have panic attacks.

Some even have physical symptoms such as stomach pains, as a result of their depression.

Motherhood is a shock to many women. They are now responsible for the welfare of a tiny human being, which can be daunting.

Their lives will change, as will the way they relate to those around them.

And they also have to cope with massive hormonal changes in their bodies.

But women are urged to seek help if they feel this way, as PND can be alleviated by appropriate treatment and support for the new mother.

Delusions

However, there is a very rare mental health illness that can affect women after the birth of their child.

Puerperal psychosis, also referred to as postpartum psychosis or postnatal psychosis, affects around one in 1,000 new mothers.

It is similar to bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression.

It can take the form of mania, severe depression and delusions, confusion or mood swings.

Early signs can include a woman being very excited and elated and not sleeping.

Puerperal psychosis can begin a few weeks after birth and can make it difficult for a woman to bond with her baby.

There is some evidence that the condition runs in families, and a history of problems such as bipolar disorder can put the woman at an increased risk.

It is slightly more common in first pregnancies.

The mental health charity Mind says: "It is important to get appropriate help as quickly as possible, as there is an increased risk of suicide in this condition, and some mothers also kill their babies."

Puerperal psychosis can be treated in hospital with antipsychotic drugs or antidepressants.

Many women recover within a few weeks, but it can take a long time to recover completely.

Some will need to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for treatment for psychosis, which may be associated with a pre-existing psychiatric disorder, or be a new illness.




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