For most women, pregnancy is an amazing experience, however it can also come with many unexpected challenges. Having a baby (or two or three) is a huge adjustment for new parents and many people find it more difficult than they expected. For some women and men it can seem overwhelming and quite frightening. It’s common for parents to experience mental health issues during the perinatal period (the time during pregnancy and the first year of a baby’s life). Perinatal depression relates to any depressive and/or anxiety disorders which are experienced during this time.
Kerryn Blunt is a clinical psychologist here at Grace Private and she has a special interest in supporting women as they manage the challenges of pre-conception, pregnancy, birth and beyond. To help you understand perinatal depression, she’s answered some frequently asked questions.
For patients who are not familiar with these terms, it can be quite confusing, so let’s break it down.
It’s not only women who experience perinatal depression. In Australia, up to one in 10 women and one in 20 men experience depression during pregnancy and one in seven mothers and one in 10 fathers experience depression after the birth of their child.
Like any mental health problem, every individual’s experience is different, however there are some common threads. Perinatal depression may affect a person’s ability to carry out their everyday activities and can affect their ability to care for their children.
Some common signs of perinatal depression include:
There are a few things that will help you cope with perinatal depression.
Looking after your own health is just as important as your baby’s. Ensure you eat well and drink plenty of water. It might help to keep some healthy snacks and a water bottle nearby. Participating in some gentle exercise and prioritising your rest is also helpful.
It’s important to hold on to new and existing support networks. As a new parent it’s common to feel isolated, so having the option to connect with other new parents can be helpful.
It sounds good in theory, but many new parents find it difficult to ask for help. Reaching out for support doesn’t make you a failure. It’s actually the opposite.
Asking for help is the best thing you can do to ensure a faster recovery and to reduce the impact perinatal depression has on you and your baby.
Living in a world where we compare ourselves to images we see on social media can make it difficult to have realistic expectations. Remember, we only see what people want us to see. The experience of pregnancy and parenthood is different for everyone.
The Centre of Perinatal Excellence provides a free e-newsletter called ‘Ready to COPE’, which provides information to promote realistic expectations of pregnancy and beyond, as well as strategies to cope during challenging times of intense emotions.
As a new parent or parent-to-be, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the amount of parenting information available. Remember, it’s ok to learn through experience and adjusting to this new life will take time.
Try not to overload yourself with too many sources of information, a couple of trusted sources can be enough. This could be from a health professional, trusted friend or family member.
Parenthood is a major learning curve, so be gentle and patient with yourself.
While it’s important not to underestimate the seriousness of perinatal depression, it is treatable and you can recover. The earlier you seek help, the faster your recovery.
The first step is to book an appointment with your GP, obstetrician, midwife or other health professional. A psychologist like myself, who specialises in managing the challenges of pre-conception, pregnancy, birth and beyond can be very helpful. The cost can be subsidised under Medicare with a GP referral.
If you’d like more information about perinatal depression, these websites could be helpful:
There are also some great online programs available:
At Grace, our holistic, multi-disciplinary team of specialists care for women throughout all stages of pregnancy. You can contact us online to find out more, or ask for ‘Grace’ next time you visit your GP.