Perinatal depression

Becoming a parent can be a rewarding but challenging experience. The physical and lifestyle changes involved can really affect your moods and emotions, causing ups as well as downs. Depression is more than just a low mood, though – it can severely impact your physical and mental wellbeing.

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 collective term for the depression that parents can experience during pregnancy and after the birth of a baby (postpartum depression). It affects approximately one in six new mothers and one in ten new fathers.

Perinatal depression is more serious than ‘baby blues’, which 80 per cent of new mothers experience in the first few weeks after having a baby. With perinatal depression, people feel a sadness or guilt that is more severe than usual. This lasts for longer than a few weeks, involves other symptoms, and may interfere with their relationship with their baby and how they cope with their everyday life.

What are the causes?

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

  • sleep deprivation

  • inadequate emotional or social support

  • the baby being unwell or difficult to settle

  • vitamin D deficiency

  • experiencing trauma during or after the birth

  • previous depression, particularly during pregnancy.

It’s most common to experience perinatal depression with your first baby, but having it 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 parents 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 their baby.

Signs of perinatal depression include:

  • having trouble sleeping – even when the baby is sleeping

  • change of appetite and weight

  • fatigue or low energy

  • being unable to concentrate or cope with daily tasks

  • loss of enjoyment in activities and hobbies

  • trouble feeling connected with the new baby

  • crying for no reason, or crying excessively.

What to do about perinatal depression

Perinatal depression is serious, but it is treatable. Perinatal depression treatment methods are the same as those used for other types of depression. Learn more about treatments for depression here.

If you think you might have symptoms of perinatal depression, 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, and what options for support and treatment are appropriate for you. Other things you can try include:

  • Ask your partner, friends or 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 parents and babies. Everyone is different.

  • Try some activities aimed at reducing stress, such as mindfulness exercises or use stress-busting apps.

  • Try to arrange for some help at least 30 minutes a day, so that you can take a short break and practise taking care of yourself. Do things to relax or that you enjoy.

What can I do now?

  • Access specialised information and support at PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia)

  • Check out different ways to relax.