If you or your partner is experiencing symptoms of depression, you need professional help and family support. When you know the signs and symptoms of antenatal and postnatal depression, you can get help as early as possible.
Symptoms of antenatal depression and postnatal depression
The experience of antenatal and postnatal depression can vary from person to person. In general, though, you might notice changes in your emotions and thinking, behaviour and social life, and general physical wellbeing.
Emotional and thinking changes
- be in a low mood a lot of the time
- feel teary or sad all the time
- feel like a failure, or hopeless, guilty, worthless and ashamed
- feel angry or cranky
- have trouble thinking clearly, concentrating or remembering things
- be thinking about suicide.
Behaviour and social changes
- fear being alone or going out
- fear being alone with your baby
- lose interest in activities you normally enjoy
- not look after yourself properly.
You might have:
- sleep problems – for example, you can’t sleep or you’re sleeping a lot more than usual
- changes in appetite – for example, you’re not eating or you’re overeating
- low energy levels.
Some women can experience postnatal psychosis in the first few weeks after birth. Postnatal psychosis causes dramatic changes in mood, behaviour and thinking. If you’re worried that your partner might be experiencing postnatal psychosis, speak to your GP for advice.
Getting help for antenatal depression and postnatal depression
Antenatal and postnatal depression symptoms can take a long time to go away on their own. Often they don’t go away without professional support. If you think you might have antenatal or postnatal depression, asking for professional help early is important.
There are many people you can go to for help with antenatal and postnatal depression:
If you’re unsure, your GP can guide you to the most appropriate services.
Getting appropriate support will help you manage symptoms and feel better sooner.
Treatment for antenatal depression and postnatal depression
There are many treatment options for women experiencing symptoms of perinatal depression.
Doctors might prescribe different treatment plans for different people, depending on your personal circumstances and age, as well as the type and severity of your depression.
Psychological treatments for antenatal and postnatal depression include counselling, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT). These therapies all aim to help you manage feelings of depression and anxiety.
Therapy might be one on one or in a group setting. Usually a psychologist, social worker or your GP will run the sessions.
Your GP can give you a Mental Health Care Plan so you can get a Medicare rebate for 6-10 sessions per year.
Doctors might sometimes prescribe antidepressant medication for antenatal and postnatal depression. There are many different types of antidepressants, and some can have side effects. Sometimes you might need to try a few different medications or dosages to find the right one for you.
Always let your doctor know if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding before taking antidepressant medication.
Sometimes women might feel suicidal or like they want to harm themselves or their babies. You should contact your GP urgently or go to your local hospital emergency department if you feel like this. GPs and hospital staff can give you the help and support you need.
Practical strategies for antenatal depression and postnatal depression
If you or someone close to you has antenatal or postnatal depression, here are some practical strategies to help.
Getting support from your partner, family and friends is one of the best ways to manage antenatal and postnatal depression. Talking to someone who can understand how you’re feeling can help you to manage some of the symptoms.
A parents group or playgroup can be another source of support. At these groups you can meet other people who you can talk to about your experiences as a parent.
Looking after yourself
Your emotional wellbeing and your physical health are directly related. You can look after both by:
- getting regular exercise – any way you can get some movement into your day is good
- eating well – keep some simple food handy, like fresh vegetables cut up ready to eat with dips, fruit, yoghurt and wholegrain bread
- trying to rest – sleep when your baby is sleeping, go to bed early, and nap whenever you can.