Some emotional changes are normal in pregnancy and after birth. But antenatal depression and postnatal depression are more than pregnancy ups and downs or the baby blues. If you’re experiencing symptoms, seek professional help.
Antenatal depression and postnatal depression
Antenatal depression and postnatal depression are serious emotional changes that happen during pregnancy or after birth.
emotional changes are normal for women before and after birth.
For example, it’s normal for expectant mothers to feel quite emotional as they go through the big physical and practical changes that pregnancy can bring.
It’s also normal for women to experience the ‘baby blues’ after having a baby. These include feelings like being teary, irritable, moody and overly sensitive. The baby blues usually go away after a few days.
But with antenatal and postnatal depression, the emotional changes last longer than two weeks and stop you from doing things you need or want to do in your daily life.
Antenatal depression and postnatal depression have the same symptoms and are treated in the same way. It’s just the timing that’s different – antenatal depression can happen before birth and postnatal depression can happen afterwards. You might hear these conditions referred to together as perinatal depression.
Video Postnatal depression
In this short video, parents describe their experiences with postnatal depression or PND. Mums, dads and professionals talk about how postnatal depression affects new mothers and fathers, and they take you through the signs of postnatal depression to watch out for. These signs include being overprotective of your baby, withdrawing from your baby, not eating, having trouble sleeping, feeling low on energy and being irritable.
The video also has information about where to get help for postnatal depression and how to cope.
If you or your partner is experiencing symptoms of depression, you need professional help and family support. When you know the signs and symptoms of antenatal and postnatal depression, you can get help as early as possible.
Symptoms of antenatal depression and postnatal depression
The experience of antenatal and postnatal depression can vary from person to person. In general, though, you might notice changes in your emotions and thinking, behaviour and social life, and general physical wellbeing.
Emotional and thinking changes
- be in a low mood a lot of the time
- feel teary or sad all the time
- feel like a failure, or hopeless, guilty, worthless and ashamed
- feel angry or cranky
- have trouble thinking clearly, concentrating or remembering things
- be thinking about suicide.
Behaviour and social changes
- fear being alone or going out
- fear being alone with your baby
- lose interest in activities you normally enjoy
- 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.
Some women can experience postnatal psychosis in the first few weeks after birth. Postnatal psychosis causes dramatic changes in mood, behaviour and thinking. If you’re worried that your partner might be experiencing postnatal psychosis, speak to your GP for advice.
Getting help for antenatal depression and postnatal depression
Antenatal and postnatal depression symptoms can take a long time to go away on their own. Often they don’t go away without professional support. If you think you might have antenatal or postnatal depression, asking for professional help early is important.
There are many people you can go to for help with antenatal and postnatal depression:
If you’re unsure, your GP can guide you to the most appropriate services.
Getting appropriate support will help you manage symptoms and feel better sooner.
Treatment for antenatal depression and postnatal depression
There are many treatment options for women experiencing symptoms of perinatal depression.
Doctors might prescribe different treatment plans for different people, depending on your personal circumstances and age, as well as the type and severity of your depression.
Psychological treatments for antenatal and postnatal depression include counselling, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT). These therapies all aim to help you manage feelings of depression and anxiety.
Therapy might be one on one or in a group setting. Usually a psychologist, social worker or your GP will run the sessions.
Your GP can give you a Mental Health Care Plan so you can get a Medicare rebate for 6-10 sessions per year.
Doctors might sometimes prescribe antidepressant medication for antenatal and postnatal depression. There are many different types of antidepressants, and some can have side effects. Sometimes you might need to try a few different medications or dosages to find the right one for you.
Always let your doctor know if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding before taking antidepressant medication.
Sometimes women might feel suicidal or like they want to harm themselves or their babies. You should contact your GP urgently or go to your local hospital emergency department if you feel like this. GPs and hospital staff can give you the help and support you need.
Practical strategies for antenatal depression and postnatal depression
If you or someone close to you has antenatal or postnatal depression, here are some practical strategies to help.
Getting support from your partner, family and friends is one of the best ways to manage antenatal and postnatal depression. Talking to someone who can understand how you’re feeling can help you to manage some of the symptoms.
A parents group or playgroup can be another source of support. At these groups you can meet other people who you can talk to about your experiences as a parent.
Looking after yourself
Your emotional wellbeing and your physical health are directly related. You can look after both by:
- getting regular exercise – any way you can get some movement into your day is good
- eating well – keep some simple food handy, like fresh vegetables cut up ready to eat with dips, fruit, yoghurt and wholegrain bread
- trying to rest – sleep when your baby is sleeping, go to bed early, and nap whenever you can.
Video Mothers groups: why they’re good
In this short video on parent support groups, Australian mothers discuss the benefits of going to a mothers group. You can connect with others sharing similar experiences. You can find support in tough times. And you can also talk about your child’s development and see that there’s a big range of normal when it comes to child development.