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Perinatal Mood Disorders

While every experience is different, having a baby is a significant life event. Much like the physical changes we go through during pregnancy, there may be many emotional changes that come with each trimester. While it’s 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 of us do develop more intense levels of anxiety or lowered moods which can impact our daily lives. When this occurs during pregnancy it is known as antenatal anxiety or antenatal depression.

Signs of perinatal depression

It’s important to identify the signs of antenatal anxiety / perinatal depression, which may include:

  • Persistent worry about the health or wellbeing of your baby
  • Constantly feeling low, hopeless or empty
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Common sadness or crying (for no obvious reason)
  • Nervousness or constant panic
  • Intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviours (e.g., unwanted thoughts relating to harming your baby)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Low energy
  • Bad sleeps
  • Feeling ‘detached’ from your surroundings
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviours

What is the difference between postnatal and perinatal?

Unfortunately, these feelings can continue following birth, into the postpartum period, which are then referred to as postpartum depression or anxiety. 

What causes perinatal mood disorder?

There are several reasons why we may develop perinatal depression or anxiety. Some reasons are:

  • A pre-existing history of anxiety and/or depression
  • Previous reproductive loss (infertility, IVF, miscarriage, termination, stillbirth, death of baby)
  • A 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

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

How to manage symptoms of perinatal depression 

  • Get out in the sunshine. Being in sunlight and fresh air can significantly improve our mood. Although parenthood can make it tricky to take care of ourselves, 10-15 minutes in the sun and nature can positively impact our mood.
  • Re-introduce exercise in your routine. Physical activity has been known to relieve symptoms of depression and improve psychological well-being. Depending on what stage we find ourselves at (e.g., a few weeks after birth), we can begin with gentle exercises like walking, aiming to be active for 20-30 minutes per day.
  • Rest. Research has shown that women who got the least amount of sleep were associated with more depressive symptoms. Depending on the stage we’re at, our baby may not be sleeping through the night. Asking or seeking extra support can help us go to bed earlier or find time to nap during the day. 
  • Resist isolation. Many studies have shown that talking about our feelings with others can help manage our mood. While we may feel like we’re running on auto-pilot, taking time to chat with other adults or mums for support can be a huge help. 

Build the support network

One of the best things we can do when experiencing symptoms of perinatal depression/anxiety is to build or utilise our support network.

  • Confide in someone you trust. This may be a partner, family member or close friend. Choose a safe place and time to share what you’re going through.
  • Speak to a health professional. If you’re concerned about how you feel, speak to a GP or other trusted health professionals about it.
  • Talk to other parents. We never know who’s recovered from perinatal depression or anxiety, so speaking to other parents (e.g. from support groups) who have gone through this as well can make us feel less alone. Feeling empathised with can make a significant difference on our mood and by speaking to other parents, we 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.

More support:

  • 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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