It is normal to experience ups and downs during pregnancy or after baby’s birth, but if you or your partner experience negative emotional changes it is important to seek help as soon as possible.
As part of Mental Health Day and Mental Health Week this month we are focussing on antenatal and postnatal depression, which has been described as experiencing negative emotional changes that last two weeks or more. Though of course, anytime you feel you are not safe or could endanger others, it is important to seek help immediately.
In a 2019 report prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Australia for perinatal welfare groups, it was estimated that one in five women in Australia suffers from perinatal depression and anxiety, and one in ten fathers/partners.
Below are some questions and answers about antenatal and postnatal depression. As the advice is general in nature, please raise any concerns you have directly with your midwife or other medical practitioner or call Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) to help find you the right treatment. Support from your family and friends can also help you manage depression symptoms.
What is antenatal and perinatal depression?
Antenatal depression occurs during pregnancy, and postnatal depression is a depression that happens up to a year following birth. You may even hear the conditions referred to together as “perinatal depression”.
Both conditions have the same symptoms and are treated the same way, the only difference is with their timing. Both though bring about serious, negative emotional changes that last longer than two weeks and stop you from doing things you need to do or want to do in your daily life.
While it is quite normal to experience emotional changes during the time of pregnancy and post-birth, it is not normal to experience continuous low moods. The “baby blues” is something many new mums commonly hear about or experience in the days post baby’s birth when their hormones are changing, however, “baby blues” usually does not last long.
What are the emotional changes?
Experiences vary from person to person, however having a low or irritable mood or losing interest in things you’d normally enjoy are common symptoms and should be taken seriously. You may notice changes in your emotions and thinking, behaviour and social life, or general physical wellbeing.
If you experience any of the changes listed below for more than two weeks, it’s important to seek professional support. Also advise your health team if you’ve experienced mental illness in the past as it can come back in pregnancy.
Raising Children is a good resource for parenting and has information about perinatal depression. It describes the changes below.
- be in a low mood a lot of the time
- often feel teary or sad
- lose confidence
- feel angry or cranky
- feel overwhelmed
- fear being alone or going out
- fear being alone with your baby.
- think that everything that goes wrong is your fault, or that you’re worthless or a failure
- think your baby would be better off with someone else
- think ‘I can’t do this or ‘I can’t cope’
- have trouble thinking clearly, concentrating or making decisions
- think that your baby doesn’t love you
- think about hurting yourself or your baby.
Behaviour and social changes
- lose interest in activities you normally enjoy
- find it hard to get moving
- struggle with everyday tasks like cooking or shopping
- withdraw from close family and friends
- not look after yourself properly.
You might have:
- sleep problems – for example, you can’t sleep or you’re sleeping a lot more than usual
- changes in appetite – for example, you’re not eating or you’re overeating
- low energy levels.
A small number of women experience postnatal psychosis in the first few weeks after birth. If you are worried you or your partner is acting or thinking differently from usual, speak to your GP as soon as you can.
What are the effects of perinatal depression on my baby?
It can be hard to tell perinatal depression from the normal effects of sleep deprivation and adjustment to parenthood/pregnancy. Even though you may not have the condition, it is still a good idea to talk to a health professional about what is going on for you as there is help available. If you are experiencing the condition, it’s important to seek help as soon as you notice the warning signs.
How can perinatal depression affect my baby?
As your baby depends on you for everything, a parent’s state of mind can affect the mental health and wellbeing of their children. Some parents with moderate to severe mental illness struggle to carry out the day-to-day tasks of caring for their baby and meeting their baby’s physical and emotional needs.
As the Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service explain, a baby’s brain will develop more quickly in the first 12 months of life than at any other time in their life. Babies are very social and need their parents to talk to them and be kind, loving and predictable towards them. They need comfort when they are upset and need to explore the world around them. Active parenting helps them feel safe, then they can develop trust in their relationships and in their environment.
Parents experiencing mental health problems can still develop good relationships with their babies, but most need professional and other supports to help them do this.
A small number of women may also need hospital treatment and are often hospitalised with their babies to encourage attachment and bonding.
How do I ask for help?
If you think you might have antenatal or postnatal depression, early professional help is important.
There are many people and services you can go to for help with antenatal and postnatal depression such as your GP, obstetrician or midwife or the national Perinatal Anxiety & Depression (PANDA) Helpline on 1300 726 306.
Sources & further: