Antenatal depression and postnatal depression: watching for the signs
Having a baby is a joyful and exciting experience, but it’s common to feel up and down during pregnancy and after birth. For example, you and your partner might feel stressed and overwhelmed as you wait for the results of antenatal tests or learn how to look after your new baby with very little sleep.
But antenatal depression and postnatal depression are more than stress or tiredness. They last longer than a few days and can be serious mental health problems.
This is why it’s important to watch out for the signs of antenatal depression and postnatal depression in your partner. These signs might include changes in your partner’s emotions and thinking, behaviour and social life, and general physical wellbeing. And if your partner seems to be in a low mood or has lost interest in things they’d normally enjoy, you should take this very seriously.
Talking with your partner often and asking how they’re feeling will help you both be aware of any changes.
If the emotional changes in your partner go on for longer than 2 weeks and get in the way of daily life, you need to help your partner get professional advice.
Antenatal and postnatal depression have the same symptoms and are treated in the same way. It’s just the timing that’s different – antenatal depression comes before birth and postnatal depression comes after. You might hear these conditions referred to together as perinatal depression.
Getting professional support for antenatal depression and postnatal depression
Antenatal depression and postnatal depression can take a long time to go away without professional help. Early professional support can help your partner recover sooner.
There are many people and services who can help your partner and family with antenatal and postnatal depression:
- the national Perinatal Anxiety & Depression (PANDA) Helpline – call 1300 726 306
- your GP
- your child and family health nurse
- your obstetrician or midwife
- ForWhen – call 1300 242 322
- your local community health centre
- local mental health services
- Australian Psychological Society – Find a Psychologist.
If you’re worried that your partner might hurt themselves or others, you should speak urgently to your GP or call Lifeline on 131 114. If you believe that someone’s life is in immediate danger, call 000 or go to your local hospital’s emergency department.
Emotional support for your partner with antenatal depression or postnatal depression
Here are some ways you can give your partner emotional support during their pregnancy or after birth:
- Listen to your partner.
- Talk with your partner about how they’re feeling.
- Reassure your partner that things will get better. It also helps to reassure your partner that setbacks are part of the recovery process, and that you’ll be there to support your partner the whole way.
- Acknowledge that your partner might be tired and express your gratitude. For example, you might say, ‘Thank you. I know it’s hard and you’re really tired, and I appreciate everything you’re doing’.
People with antenatal or postnatal depression often also have antenatal or postnatal anxiety. Signs of anxiety can include a racing heart, constant worry and restlessness.
Practical support for your partner with antenatal depression or postnatal depression
All parents and parents-to-be need practical help and support, especially those who are experiencing antenatal or postnatal depression.
You can do a lot to help your partner in practical ways during this time:
- Share the care of your baby and take on extra baby care if you can. This can give your partner more time for self-care.
- Take on more housework. If you can do household chores without being asked to, it means your partner doesn’t have to worry about them at all.
- Keep your partner company. Quality couple and family time will help with recovery. You can do things together like cooking meals or going for walks.
- Arrange for someone else to be around if you can’t be there. It should be someone your partner feels comfortable spending time with, like a relative or close friend.
- Accept help from family and friends. You can also let people know that your family needs extra support right now and suggest what they can do to help. People often appreciate being asked for something specific.
- Help your partner with their appointments. For example, you can arrange your partner’s appointments, drive them to appointments, go to appointments together, arrange child care and so on.
- Do your research. The more you learn about antenatal and postnatal depression, the better you can support your partner. You can ask health professionals for more information.
- Celebrate when your partner makes progress in their recovery. For example, if you notice that your partner is getting out of the house more often, do something special like making your partner breakfast in bed or looking after your baby so your partner can sleep in or have coffee with a friend.
Looking after yourself when your partner has antenatal depression or postnatal depression
You might be focused on your partner’s wellbeing, but it’s also important to take time for yourself as well. If you look after yourself, you’ll be in better shape to support your partner and give your baby what they need to grow and thrive.
For example, you could do some physical activity by taking your baby out for a walk in the pram. This also gives your partner a little break and the chance to catch up on some sleep.
Eating healthy food helps you and your partner build the energy you need to care for your baby and support each other. You can buy prepared meals, soups and salads for the days when time is short. If you have time, it’s a good idea to prepare and freeze some healthy meals for the days and weeks ahead. You can also ask friends or family to help you with this.
Supporting a partner with depression can cause strain in your relationship. It can also affect your own emotional wellbeing and mental health. It can help to share how you’re feeling with a relative, friend or health professional.
All parents and parents-to-be can experience antenatal depression and postnatal depression. Looking after yourself can help to reduce the chances of this happening. You can read more about antenatal and postnatal depression in non-birthing parents.