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Considerable research has been conducted on women's experiences of being depressed postnatally, as well as the risks, based on statistical modelling, for developing postnatal depression or postnatal distress. Little, however, has been undertaken on actually asking the women themselves what factors contributed to their difficulty coping. This study describes the development of a self-report measure to assist in this process.Two versions of the Reasons for Postnatal Distress Checklist (RPDC) were developed: a full version (RPDC-f: 68 items; suitable for research purposes) and a brief version (RPDC-b: 20 categories; suitable for clinical use). The psychometric properties of the two versions were explored (test–retest reliability, concurrent validity, and discriminant validity; n=540).Both versions were found to have acceptable psychometric properties. Women with longer periods of difficulty coping, or who had sought professional help for emotional difficulties, or who had a history of mood difficulties, reported more perceived definite causal stressors than women who had not coped but for shorter periods, or who had not sought professional help, or who had no history of mood difficulties. Practical stressors were more commonly endorsed by community mothers as the reason for their postnatal depression, anxiety or distress, rather than more intrapsychic stressors.The RPDC-f and RPDC-b are psychometrically sound self-report measures that allow women with postnatal distress to communicate the stressors they believe are responsible for their emotional condition. This should facilitate the assessment and treatment for women, including enhancing their understanding of possible aetiological factors for their distress. Depression and Anxiety, 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.