How to spot signs of postnatal depression in the pharmacy

In light of singer Adele’s recent admission in an interview that she has suffered from postnatal depression (PND), I would like to alert readers to how they can spot the signs and help those who might be affected in their day-to-day work in the pharmacy.

New mothers can often feel emotional and overwhelmed, but around 10–15% of mothers develop a much deeper and long-term depression, which usually starts within six weeks of giving birth. PND can often go undiagnosed because it is commonly overlooked as a mother experiencing ‘the baby blues’.

If a patient is acting despondently, appearing disengaged or lethargic, or behaving extremely anxiously, these are all signs of PND. Often new mums feel like they are not bonding with their child or doing enough for their new baby, which can be particularly distressing. If a new mother is irritable or short tempered and appears to be taking her feelings out on someone else, such as her partner or family member, this could also be another indicator that someone is experiencing PND. A patient experiencing PND could also be suffering from stress-induced physical symptoms, such as stomach aches, headaches and blurred vision.

New mothers will often visit pharmacies, so if pharmacists and their staff meet any new parents they could ask them a few general questions to see how they are feeling, if they have noticed any changes to how they are eating or sleeping, or ask if they feel they are getting enough support.

If there are suspicions that the mother is experiencing PND, there are a few things pharmacists could suggest while completing a service like a medicines use review or handing over a prescription. For example, they could ask whether the patient has much contact with other new parents. If not, maybe she could join a group like Mumsnet, where everyone is ‘in it together’. This can be reassuring for new parents to share emotions, fears and stories with each other because it helps them feel like they are not alone.

New mothers should also be reminded to get enough rest. It is common with a new baby around that other aspects of a parent’s lifestyle can become disorganised, so let them know this is okay. It is more important that they are putting themselves and their baby first.

Pharmacists could also try to find out if the mother is eating properly because a lack of appetite is one of the common signs of depression. Eating properly and getting important nutrition is vital for any new parent.

Another lifestyle advice for new mothers is to advise them to take up something relaxing like a hobby or practise some relaxation techniques such as those taught in antenatal classes.

It is also important to note that, although men cannot officially be diagnosed with postnatal depression, it is possible for them to experience depression or another mental health problem after becoming a parent. The causes can include the pressures of fatherhood, increased responsibility, the expense of having children, the changed relationship with their partners, as well as lack of sleep and increased workload at home.

Pharmacists can also help by reminding new mothers that experiencing PND does not make someone a bad parent. They also have a great opportunity to promote good mental health by providing patient-friendly advice, leaflets and signposting parents to organisations such as Mind and Perinatal Illness UK, and also encouraging them to see their GP, midwife or health visitor.

Stephen Buckley

Head of information


Last updated
Clinical Pharmacist, CP, January 2017, Vol 9, No 1;9(1):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2016.20201927

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