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When someone has perinatal depression, they experience a range of symptoms, including feeling like they can’t cope with either their new role as a parent or with everyday tasks. Many different things can contribute to someone developing perinatal depression, though it’s more common in a first-time parent. There are a range of things you can do to help manage your symptoms.

This can help if:

  • you’ve had a baby within the past year
  • you’re having trouble coping with everyday life
  • you feel really down, irritated and upset
  • you feel as if you’re a bad parent.
Pregnant girl reading book

What is perinatal depression?

Perinatal depression is a type of depression that parents can experience during pregnancy and after the birth of a baby. It affects approximately one in six new mothers and one in ten new fathers. It is known to occur during pregnancy or within the first year of the baby’s life. Perinatal depression is more serious than ‘baby blues’, which 80% of new mothers experience in the first few weeks after having a baby. With perinatal depression, people feel a sadness that is more severe than normal, lasts for longer than a few weeks, involves other symptoms, and interferes with how they can get on in their everyday life.

What are the causes?

There’s no one, single cause of perinatal depression, however the things that can contribute to it developing include:

  • sleep deprivation
  • not having enough emotional or social support
  • the baby being unwell, unsettled or difficult
  • vitamin D deficiency
  • experiencing trauma during or after the birth
  • previous depression, particularly during pregnancy.

It’s most common to get perinatal depression with your first baby, but having perinatal depression with one baby increases your chances of developing it with the next.

What are the signs and symptoms of perinatal depression?

After a baby, it is common for new mothers and fathers to feel teary and overwhelmed because of the changes in their hormones and lifestyle. Perinatal depression, however, is more serious than that. When people have perinatal depression, they may feel:

  • unable to cope with their new role as a parent
  • frequently irritated and frustrated
  • anxious about the baby – whether they are sleeping, eating or crying enough, or too much
  • guilty that they are ‘a bad parent’
  • afraid to be alone with the baby.

Signs of perinatal depression include:

  • being unable to sleep – even when the baby is sleeping
  • loss of appetite and weight
  • being unable to concentrate or cope with daily chores
  • crying for no reason, or crying excessively.

What to do about perinatal depression

Perinatal depression is able to be treated, and there are a lot of things you can do if you think you might have symptoms of perinatal depression. The first thing is to ask for help as soon as possible. Visit your GP, or talk to a maternal and child health nurse about how you’re feeling. They’ll work with you to figure out what’s going on. With their help, treating and managing your symptoms will be much easier and quicker.

Other things you can try:

  • Ask your partner, friends and family for emotional support, and for help around the house and with the baby.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Try not to compare yourself and your baby to other mothers and babies. Everyone is different.
  • Focus on the positive things you do well with your baby.
  • Try to spend at least 30 minutes a day taking care of yourself. Do things to relax or that you enjoy. Reading a book while leaving the dirty dishes in the sink can be very therapeutic.

What can I do now?