Perinatal Depression Week 2019
Congratulations! You're having a baby!
It is an emotional time when you first find out you are expecting. Whether you had a planned pregnancy, or there is a little surprise on its way. The rollercoaster of emotions that you will feel is unique to you, and there is no right or wrong way to feel about it. If you are concerned or unhappy for whatever reason about the way you feel, it would be best to talk to somebody you trust. Your GP is always a good resource. Everybody's journey is not the same and unfortunately for some parents they will have the added hurdle of perinatal depression. Beyond Blue refers to the perinatal period as any time between conception and when your baby turns 12 months of age. Other terms you may have heard are antenatal, the time from conception to birth and postnatal the time after birth. Depression and/or anxiety can occur at any time in the perinatal period. I will concentrate on perinatal depression. For information on perinatal anxiety a good resource is Beyond Blue and (PANDA) Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia. Just always remember that if you have any concerns at any time please talk to somebody.
Depression or the Baby Blues?
Many new mothers go through what is commonly called 'baby blues'. New mothers may experience symptoms such as feeling overwhelmed, tearful, have mood swings and/or anxiety between three and ten days post birth. It is not clear why new mothers experience the baby blues, but it is thought that it may be due to the rapidly changing hormone levels experienced after giving birth. If you do get the baby blues, rest assured that it will go away after a few days. Support from your partner and family will be very helpful at this stage. If the symptoms do not pass within a few days, remember to allow yourself and your partner time to adjust to the new routines and demands that a baby brings to any home situation. If you have any concerns, or these symptoms last for more than two weeks, it is always best to seek advice from professionals. This may be a sign of depression.
It is unclear what causes depression, but there are factors that may contribute to your vulnerability:
- History of depression
- Family member history
- Stress during pregnancy or unwanted pregnancy
- Complicated or traumatic birth
- Relationship issues
- Lack of support
- Sick or unsettled baby
The symptoms of depression are the same as any other time in life. However, in pregnancy and early parenthood, they may be a little harder to identify and to cope with. Some of the changes you may experience in pregnancy and early parenthood are very similar to the signs of depression. For example, changes in your appetite or sleep pattern. Sometimes this is why it can be hard to distinguish the difference.
Some signs of depression:
- Very low mood
- Feeling of inadequacy
- Feeling of exhaustion, tiredness and teary
- Feelings or being ashamed or worthless
- Feelings of anxiety or panic
- Sleeping problems, too long or with nightmares
- Frightened to go out
- Abrupt mood swings
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Difficulties in concentration
- Engaging in risk-taking behaviour e.g. drug taking
Most women in Australia will be screened for signs of depression in pregnancy and then again once their baby is born. The screen is just a questionnaire about how they are feeling and is carried out by a health professional. This will determine if the mother shows signs of depression.
Good news, Depression is treatable and more encouragingly, there are range of health professionals and/or medications that can help. Your GP may conduct blood tests just to rule out any physical issues that mimic signs of depression such as anaemia or thyroid problems. Your GP or other health professional may develop a treatment plan that will be tailored to your needs. This normally includes emotional and psychological support and includes practical support such as help from family and friends.
If your depression is quite severe, your doctor may put you on antidepressants. Most of these medications are quite safe through your pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding. As with any medication always check with your doctor before taking them. Perinatal depression as with any depression is very individual and some people may find that counselling works, others may need a combination of counselling and medication. Remember you are not the only person that is going through this and you are not alone. Talk to somebody, a member of the family, a friend or your GP.
When most people think about perinatal depression, they think of mothers, but fathers can also suffer from the condition. They share all the same signs and symptoms. There are some other factors may contribute developing depression in fathers. These include attitudes towards fatherhood, maintaining masculinity. Fear of failure as a father, can lead to resentment and exclusion in a relationship. The worry of increased financial burden and not being able to provide for his family. Treatment options are the same for fathers as for mothers that are experiencing perinatal depression. Historically men are less likely to talk about their feelings or concerns. It is important that if you have any concerns about a partner, relative or even a mate I strongly encourage them to seek help.
Finding out you are pregnant or having a baby is a time of mixed emotions and maybe a few new challenges. If you or your partner have had the added challenge of depression at any stage remember you are not alone and there are many people available to help. Some of the people you can call upon to help is your GP, your midwife, child health nurse, Beyond Blue and PANDA. The end result can be amazing.
Sources: Beyond Blue. PANDA. The Royal Women's Hospital - Melbourne