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Perinatal Mood Disorders

Having a baby is a significant life event and every parent’s experience of pregnancy is different. Like how there are many physical changes, there may be many emotional changes that come with each trimester. While pregnancy is a time of joy, excitement and many firsts, it can also come with a degree of anxiety or ‘ups and downs’ in mood. Although it is normal to experience these emotions when expecting a baby, some individuals do develop more intense levels of anxiety or lowered mood. This can impact their daily life and functioning. When this occurs during pregnancy it is known as antenatal anxiety or antenatal depression.

It’s important to identify the signs of antenatal anxiety and depression. These symptoms can differ across individuals and may commonly include:

  • Persistent worry about the health or wellbeing of your baby
  • Persistent feelings low mood/hopelessness/emptiness
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Persistent levels of sadness or crying (for sometimes no obvious reason)
  • Feeling nervous or constant panicking
  • Intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviours (e.g., unwanted thoughts relating to harming your baby)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Experiencing low energy
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Feelings of ‘detachment’ from your surroundings
  • Suicidal thoughts/behaviours

These feelings may persist into the postpartum period, which are then referred to as postpartum anxiety or depression. There are several reasons why some people may develop perinatal (i.e., antenatal or postnatal) anxiety and depression. 

Some reasons are:

  • A pre-existing history of anxiety and/or depression
  • Previous reproductive loss (infertility, IVF, miscarriage, termination, stillbirth, death of baby)
  • Difficult or complex pregnancy
  • Birth trauma
  • Premature or sick baby
  • Challenges with feeding or settling
  • Sleep deprivation 
  • Pre-existing physical illnesses
  • Financial stress
  • Relationship stress

1 in 5 expecting mothers experience anxiety or depression during the pregnancy stage. Despite how common these experiences are, going through these experiences can feel very lonely and distressing. Further, fathers may also experience these symptoms, with research estimating that 1 in 20 expecting fathers also experiencing depression and many more experiencing anxiety.

Tips on how to manage symptoms of perinatal anxiety/depression 

  •  Get out in the sunshine. Exposing yourself to sunlight and fresh air can significantly improve your mood. Although parenthood can make it tricky to take care of yourself, 10-15 minutes in the sun and nature can have a positive impact on your mood.
  •  At your own pace, re-introduce exercise in your routine. Physical activity has been known to relieve symptoms of depression. It is an easy way to improve psychological well-being. Depending on what stage you are at (e.g., a few weeks after birth), you can begin with gentle exercises like walking. Aim to be active for around 20-30 minutes per day.
  • Make time to rest. Research has shown that women who got the least amount of sleep were associated with more depressive symptoms. Depending on what stage you are at, your baby may not be sleeping through the night. It may be useful to ask for extra support so that you can go to bed early or find time to nap. 
  • Resist isolation. Many studies have shown that talking about your feelings with others can help manage your mood. Although you may feel like you are running on auto-pilot, take a moment to have a chat with other adults or mums for support. 

Building your support network:

One of the best things you can do for yourself when experiencing symptoms of perinatal anxiety/depression is to build or utilise your support network.

  • Consider confiding in someone you trust. This may be your partner, family member or close friend. Choose a safe place and time to share what you are going through.
  • Speak to a health professional. If you are concerned about what you are experiencing. Speak to your GP or other trusted health professionals about what you are going through.
  • Talk to other parents who have recovered from perinatal anxiety or depression. You may feel less alone on your journey by speaking to other parents (e.g. from support groups) who have gone through this as well. Feeling empathised with can make a significant difference in your mood and by speaking to other parents, you may gain some hope in hearing about stories of healing and recovery. 

Our team at Mind Matters have experience in helping parents transitioning to or navigating the hardships of parenthood. Reach out to us or your GP to discuss your options on how you can be better supported.

Other contacts:

  • PANDA (National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline): 1300 726 306
  • Lifeline on 13 11 14 or
  • Pregnancy Birth Baby Helpline on 1800 882 436.
  • If you require urgent help please call triple 000.
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