Pregnancy and early parenting: emotional changes for all parents
Pregnancy and early parenting are powerful and life-changing experiences for all parents and parents-to-be. These experiences can stir up some strong, deep and unexpected emotions and issues.
If your partner is pregnant or has had a baby, there might be times when you feel flat, down or irritable. These kinds of changes are common in fathers and all non-birthing parents during pregnancy and early parenting.
But emotional changes that last longer than 2 weeks and get in the way of your daily life could be depression.
Depression during pregnancy is called antenatal depression. Depression after birth is postnatal depression. They have the same symptoms and are treated in the same way. It’s just the timing that’s different. You might hear these conditions referred to together as perinatal depression.
Signs of antenatal and postnatal depression
If you’re experiencing any of the changes below for more than 2 weeks, get help. Speak with your partner, family or friends, and see your GP.
Common physical signs might include:
- lack of appetite
- trouble sleeping, or sleeping and waking at unusual times
- weight loss or gain.
Changes in emotions and moods can also be signs of antenatal and postnatal depression. For example, you might feel:
- guilty or ashamed
- cranky, anxious and angry
- isolated or disconnected from your partner, friends or family
- unable to enjoy things you used to find fun or pleasurable.
You might have changes in thinking. For example, you might:
- be unable to concentrate or remember things
- have trouble making decisions or doing everyday tasks
- have thoughts of being overwhelmed, out of control or unable to cope
- think about death or suicide.
You might also have changes in behaviour. For example, you might:
- not be interested in sex
- withdraw from your family or want to spend more time at work
- be irritable or aggressive towards your partner, family or friends
- use drugs or alcohol as a way of handling change, stress and depression.
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 or postnatal depression
If you think you might have depression, it’s important to reach out for help early. With help and support, you can manage symptoms, feel better sooner, and give your baby what they need to grow and thrive.
The first step is to speak to your GP. They can guide you to the most appropriate services for you.
Here are other things you can do to start feeling better:
- Talk with your partner, family and friends about what you’re going through.
- Call PANDA on 1300 726 306 or MensLine on 1300 789 978.
- Call ForWhen on 1300 242 322.
- Go to your local community health centre.
- Contact your local mental health service.
- Go to Australian Psychological Society – Find a Psychologist.
If you’re having thoughts about hurting yourself or your family, you should urgently speak 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.
When your partner has antenatal or postnatal depression: your feelings
If you notice that your partner is experiencing the symptoms of antenatal or postnatal depression, encourage them to seek help. To start with, your partner could speak to a GP, midwife or child and family health nurse.
This might also be a tough time for you. It’s common for there to be changes in your relationship, and you might feel like there’s less love, friendship, affection or physical intimacy. But your support during this time will make a big difference to your partner.
Read more about how to care for a partner who has antenatal or postnatal depression.
If your partner has antenatal or postnatal depression, you’re more likely to develop it too. This is why it’s important to look after yourself as well. If you’re emotionally and physically well, you’ll be in better shape to support your partner.
Depression and non-birthing parents: the research
Around 1 in 7 birthing mothers experience antenatal or postnatal depression.
Up to 1 in 10 fathers experience antenatal or postnatal depression.
Parents in rainbow families also experience antenatal or postnatal depression, but more research is needed to understand how common this is. Parents in rainbow families share the challenges that come with pregnancy and a new baby. They might also have to navigate additional challenges, like discrimination, lack of recognition of their family arrangements, and lack of support and understanding of their needs.