Nurture Information Hub
"Depression and anxiety can happen at any time — but we know women are more likely to experience these conditions during pregnancy and the year following the birth of a baby."
It is important to understand these conditions so you can learn to recognise the signs and seek help early.
Pregnancy and adjusting to a new baby is rewarding, but also brings changes and challenges. While some days will be better than others, for some women who experience mental health problems each day is a struggle.
Just like physical health problems experienced during pregnancy, birth or early parenthood (e.g. high blood pressure), mental health problems can happen to anyone. It’s important to recognise the signs and seek help early.
While depression and anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health problems in the perinatal period, there are other serious mental health problems that can also occur at this time (see 'Other mental health conditions').
"I felt nothing…just numb, emotionally dead/flat."
Perinatal depression affects up to one in 10 women during pregnancy, and almost one in seven women in the first year after the birth. Unlike the ‘baby blues’, which is temporary, depression does not go away on its own. Women with depression describe feeling sad, down, numb and empty, with no interest in their baby, other people or things they used to enjoy.
"I’m just so worried about everything."
"I can’t stop feeling that something will go wrong with this pregnancy."
While we all experience some anxiety from time to time, for some people, these feelings keep going and can have an impact on their ability to function from day to day. Anxiety conditions are likely to be at least as common as depression during pregnancy and the year following, and many women experience both anxiety and depression at the same time. Symptoms of anxiety disorders include feelings of worry, panic or fear that are difficult to stop or control.
Talking to your general practitioner (GP) or other health professional is a good first step in getting help. By discussing your experiences with you and assessing your answers to the questions in the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) a health professional can help you to work out if you may be experiencing depression or anxiety and whether you could benefit from some additional advice or help.
Depending on your symptoms, you may be referred to a specialist (e.g. psychologist, psychiatrist).
If you or someone you care about is in crisis, contact your GP or local health care provider.
Thoughts of suicide, harming yourself or your baby can accompany mental health conditions.
If you think your partner or baby would be better off without you, or you are having thoughts of suicide or thoughts of harming the baby, seek emergency assistance by calling 000 or go to your local hospital emergency department.
"I knew I needed help, it was just a matter of finding the right combination of help for me."
The type of treatment varies according to the individual and the severity of the illness. Often a combination of treatments is most effective for depression and/or anxiety.
Medicare rebates are available for a range of mental health services. For more information, phone the beyondblue info line 1300 22 4636.
There are other less common mental health conditions that can occur during pregnancy or in the year following birth.
Women who have had bipolar disorder or puerperal psychosis before have a high risk of relapse in the perinatal period.
"Talking with others who really do understand has helped me not to worry about the birth and being a mother."
"My husband was fantastic… he spent as much time as he could at home helping with the children."
"My mother stayed over as much as possible and a neighbour and other friends cooked meals."
Download the full version of Understanding perinatal depression and anxiety.
For information on the common emotional challenges faced by new and expectant parents, including practical tips and strategies, see The beyond babyblues guide to emotional health and wellbeing during pregnancy and early parenthood.
For more information about depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder and puerperal psychosis, see the beyond babyblues booklet Managing mental health problems during pregnancy and early parenthood: A guide for women and their families.
Reproduced with permission, Beyond Blue LTD. BL/0940_0612