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  • Mental Health

What is perinatal depression?

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.

What’s the difference between perinatal, antenatal and postnatal depression?

For patients who are not familiar with these terms, it can be quite confusing, so let’s break it down.

Depression experienced during pregnancy and after birth can be:

  • antenatal depression – during pregnancy
  • postnatal depression – during the first 12 months after a baby is born
  • perinatal depression – can occur anytime during pregnancy and the first 12 months after birth

Who can experience perinatal depression?

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.

You’re more at risk of developing perinatal depression if you:

  • have a history of anxiety and depression
  • have a family history of mental illness
  • have a difficult or complex pregnancy
  • experience birth trauma
  • have had previous perinatal loss
  • have a premature or unwell baby
  • experience difficulties feeding and settling
  • have relationship stress or a lack of support
  • are isolated
  • have a physical illness
  • experience family violence
  • have a history of trauma.

What are the signs of perinatal depression?

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:

  • feelings of sadness, hopelessness or emptiness
  • frequently crying or feeling like crying
  • a loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed
  • a lack of interest in having the baby/or in the baby
  • insomnia or excessive sleep
  • physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, changes in appetite, clammy palms or headaches
  • constantly feeling overwhelmed and exhausted
  • not being able to bond or form an attachment with your baby
  • feelings of unworthiness or guilt
  • feeling like you are trapped
  • persistent negative thoughts
  • difficulty concentrating
  • feeling sensitive or irritable
  • thoughts of self-harm, death or suicide, or thoughts of harming the baby

Mother And Baby

How to cope with perinatal depression

There are a few things that will help you cope with perinatal depression.

Self care

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.

Stay connected

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.

Ask for help if you need it

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.

Have realistic expectations

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.

Avoid information overload

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.

When to seek help and who can you turn to?

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.


  • PANDA National Helpline (Mon to Fri, 9am- 7.30am AEST/AEDT). Call 1300726306
  • Pregnancy, Birth and Baby | Phone 1800 882 436 | Information, emotional support, 7am to midnight
  • Lifeline | Phone 13 11 14 |available 24/7
  • Suicide Callback Service | Phone 1300 659 467 |available 24/7

If you’d like more information about perinatal depression, these websites could be helpful:

There are also some great online programs available:

  • Mumsmoodbooster is a free evidence based online programme for mums experiencing mild to moderate postnatal depression-

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.

Blog post written by

Kerryn Blunt

Clinical Psychologist

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  • Mental Health