Most people have heard of post-natal depression, but did you know being pregnant can put you at increased risk of other mental health conditions? The mental health and well-being of mum and dad is vital for the healthy development and well-being of the baby. It’s important to be informed of mental health conditions associated with pregnancy so that if need be, you can seek help early.
Antenatal depression and anxiety
The term antenatal means ‘before birth’. In other words, it refers to your period of pregnancy. About 15% of women may experience some form of depression or anxiety during pregnancy. Pregnancy itself can bring about a lot of hormone changes which can sometimes be attributed to early symptoms of depression and anxiety. This means depression and anxiety during pregnancy may be both un-noticed and untreated. It’s normal to experience some stress before becoming a parent – it can be very daunting thinking about the upcoming life changes! If, however, you find negative or apprehensive thoughts and feelings are starting to take over or interfere with day-to-day life, you may be experiencing antenatal anxiety or depression.
Symptoms of antenatal anxiety may include:
- Constant worrying thoughts
- Panic attacks
- Irritability or feeling on edge
- Feeling restless or fidgety, tight in the muscles or chest
Symptoms of antenatal depression may include:
- Feeling sad or down for most days of the week
- Feeling numb
- Loss of interest in things you would normally enjoy
- Feeling excessive tiredness or fatigue
- Feeling teary or crying for no apparent reason
- Feeling irritable or angry
- Sleep issues – for example unable to sleep or increased sleep needs
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling isolated and alone
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- Having thoughts of harming yourself or the baby
After the birth of the baby the ‘baby blues’ is incredibly common, with up to 85% of new mums experiencing this around day 3 to 5 after birth. It’s not very well understood but it’s thought to be related to your rapidly changing hormones during this time. Symptoms may include teariness, mood swings, feeling overwhelmed and feelings of anxiety. They usually subside after a few days but if they persist, it may be a sign of developing post-natal anxiety or depression.
Postnatal depression is experienced by about 1 in 7 mums. It can occur anytime from days after the birth up until a few months later. Having a baby increases the likelihood of developing depression more than any other time of your life. Symptoms to look out for include:
- Very low mood
- Feelings of inadequacy as a mother
- Withdrawing from the baby
- Withdrawing from others
- Feeling unable to cope
- A sense of hopelessness
- Feeling exhausted
- Feeling sad and teary
- Feeling guilty/ashamed
- Low self-esteem/worthlessness
- Feeling anxious and/or panic attacks
- Poor concentration and inability to remember things
- Sleep issues
- Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby
This is a very rare mental health condition that can develop after the birth of the baby. Symptoms may involve seeing things that are not there, difficulty thinking clearly, extreme paranoia and delusions. This is a medical emergency and help must be sought immediately.
How is Dad?
It’s important to remember that these mental health conditions are not limited to mum. Dads can be affected too! They are particularly at risk if their partner is experiencing symptoms. Symptoms can be the same as those listed above and should not be ignored.
If you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby, please seek medical attention straight away.
It is important to see your GP so we can rule out other potential conditions that may mimic some of these symptoms, for example, iron deficiency or an underactive thyroid. Most mental health conditions can be treated with psychological counselling and a good support network. The significance of a healthy diet and regular exercise cannot be understated in keeping a healthy mind and body. In some cases, the use of an antidepressant medication may be required. There are a wide range that are completely safe in pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
Please remember the use of herbal medications including St John’s Wort may not be safe in pregnancy.
Where to get help
Your midwife or MACH nurse
PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia www.panda.org.au
Lifeline Australia 13 11 14
Dr Maria Iannelli