Antenatal depression and postnatal depression: what are they?
Antenatal depression and postnatal depression are serious, negative emotional changes that last longer than 2 weeks and stop you from doing things you need or want to do in your daily life.
Antenatal and postnatal depression are more than the emotional changes that you might expect during pregnancy and after birth. For example, if you’re pregnant, you might expect to feel quite emotional as you go through pregnancy’s physical and practical changes. And if you’ve just given birth, you can expect to get the ‘baby blues’ a couple of days after having a baby. But these kinds of emotional changes don’t last long.
Antenatal and postnatal depression have the same symptoms as each other, and they’re treated in the same way. The only difference between them is the timing. Antenatal depression is depression that happens during pregnancy. Postnatal depression is depression that happens in the first year after birth.
You might hear antenatal and postnatal depression referred to together as perinatal depression.
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
If you experience any of the changes below for more than 2 weeks, it’s important to seek professional support. It’s also important to let your health professional know if you’ve experienced mental illness in the past. Past mental illnesses can come back in pregnancy.
- be in a low mood a lot of the time
- often feel teary or sad
- lose confidence
- often feel worried about your baby or yourself
- feel scared and panicky
- 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 birthing mothers experience postnatal psychosis in the first few weeks after birth. If you’re worried that you’re acting or thinking differently from the way you usually do, speak to your GP as soon as you can.
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.
Getting help for antenatal depression and postnatal depression
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:
- the national Perinatal Anxiety & Depression (PANDA) Helpline – call 1300 726 306
- your GP
- your obstetrician or midwife
- your child and family health nurse
- your local community health centre
- local mental health services
- Australian Psychological Society – Find a Psychologist.
If you’re unsure, your GP can guide you to the most appropriate services. With help and support, you can manage symptoms, feel better sooner, and give your baby what they need to grow and thrive.
If you’re having thoughts about hurting yourself or your family, you should urgently speak to your GP or call Lifeline Australia 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.
Treatment for antenatal depression and postnatal depression
There are many treatment options that can help you if you’re experiencing symptoms of antenatal or postnatal depression. Your doctor will talk with you about a treatment plan that suits your personal circumstances and age, as well as the type and severity of your depression.
Here are some treatment options for antenatal and postnatal depression.
Psychological treatments for antenatal and postnatal depression include cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT). These therapies aim to help you manage feelings of depression and anxiety.
A counsellor might help you one on one, or in a group with others who are experiencing similar symptoms.
Your GP can give you a mental health care plan so you can get a Medicare rebate for up to 20 sessions with a mental health professional per year.
Doctors sometimes recommend antidepressant medicine for antenatal and postnatal depression. There are many different types of antidepressants, including some that you can safely use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
For many people, medicine used together with psychological therapy can work very well.
Hospital admission is rarely needed for antenatal or postnatal depression. Health professionals might consider admitting pregnant women or birthing mothers to hospital if they feel suicidal or have thoughts of harming themselves or their babies. You should contact your GP urgently or go to your local hospital’s 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 have antenatal or postnatal depression, here are some practical strategies to help.
Getting emotional support from your partner, family and friends is an important way to cope with antenatal and postnatal depression. Talking to someone who can understand how you’re feeling can help you to manage some of the symptoms.
A birth class, parent group, playgroup or therapy group can be another source of emotional support. At these groups you can meet other people to share your experiences with.
You can also get support from online resources. For example, MumMoodBooster is a free online program designed to help pregnant women and birthing mothers experiencing antenatal and postnatal depression.
Help at home
If you’re at home while you’re pregnant or with your new baby, it's good to ask someone you trust to be with you regularly and help with baby care or any household chores. Help at home gives you a chance to rest, sleep or do something relaxing. It’s also a good source of company, which is important for your recovery.
There’s no need to feel guilty about asking for this kind of help. Many people like to help out and will be glad if you ask them to do something specific.
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 fruit, yoghurt, wholegrain bread and fresh vegetables cut up ready to eat with dips
- trying to manage stress
- trying to rest – sleep when your baby is sleeping, go to bed early, and nap whenever you can.
All parents can experience antenatal and postnatal depression. You can read more about antenatal and postnatal depression in fathers and all non-birthing parents.