Understanding postnatal depression and anxiety

Having a new baby can be both an exciting and challenging time for parents. Between sleepless nights, changes in hormones, disruptions to your routine and stress in relationships, it’s no wonder that many new parents struggle.

More than just the “baby blues”

You’ve probably heard of the term “baby blues”, and this is a very common feeling after giving birth. In fact, up to 80% of new mums will experience some form of the baby blues following the arrival of their newborn. This is a broad term used to describe a group of symptoms including mood swings, tearfulness, irritability, and feeling overwhelmed. For many parents, these symptoms settle down after a couple of weeks without needing treatment.  

However, for other parents, these feelings persist and worsen. More than 1 in 7 mothers will experience anxiety or depression within the year after birth, with many experiencing both – including those with no history of either condition. If you have been feeling anxious and depressed for more than three weeks, you may have postnatal depression or anxiety. 

Who is at risk?

Anyone can develop postnatal depression or anxiety, but there are some factors which can increase your risk:

  • You have previously experienced mood or anxiety disorders, including during your current or prior pregnancies.
  • You have a close family member who has had depression or anxiety.
  • You experienced stressful or traumatic events during the course of your pregnancy (e.g. death or illness of a loved one, difficulty conceiving, premature delivery, difficult delivery, or your baby spent time in the NICU).
  • You are in your teens or over 40 years of age.
  • The pregnancy was unwanted or unplanned.
  • You are currently experiencing difficulties with alcohol or substance abuse.

Treating postnatal depression and anxiety

If your symptoms of anxiety and depression have persisted for many weeks after giving birth, then talking to a trusted health professional, like your family GP, is the first step you can take. Postnatal depression and anxiety are genuine conditions, which need to be properly diagnosed and managed by a trained healthcare professional.

Today, there are a range of effective treatments for postnatal depression and anxiety. The type of treatment and time required will depend on a range of factors including your personal situation, the severity of your symptoms, and how you respond to treatment. It’s important to be aware that treatment can take time, energy and patience – but you can get through this.

Treatment options include:

  • individual psychological therapy 
  • group psychological therapy
  • support strategies
  • medications such as antidepressants (many of which are safe for nursing parents)

Many people also find it helpful to share their experiences and what they are going through with their family and friends. The emotional support, and practical help, your loved ones can provide can help get you through your postnatal depression and anxiety.  

Where to get help

When you’re experiencing feelings of depression and anxiety, you may feel isolated. But you don’t have to carry the burden alone – help is readily available. And the sooner you take action, the sooner you will be able to feel a restored sense of wellness. 

At Wise Institute, psychologist Emily Arkell specialises in perinatal mental health. In her work with clients, Emily uses approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Mindfulness to assist in building resilience and self-compassion as you acquire skills to live your best life. 

We can also recommend the following resources for additional support and information on postnatal challenges:

To find a child health centre, search  via Pregnancy Birth & Baby

PANDA supports women and their families who are suffering perinatal anxiety or depression 

Gidget Foundation supports the emotional wellbeing of expecting and new parents 

Healthy Families (BeyondBlue) provides information and support to parents, guardians and families, and support for mental health and wellbeing