Perinatal and postnatal mental health challenges include any mental health condition that may impact mood, behaviour, wellbeing, and daily function for parents prior to, and for the first year after, the birth of their baby/ies.
Perinatal Mental Health refers to the time period between conception and birth. Common experiences include a lot of concern and uncertainty relating to the pregnancy, the health and development of the unborn baby, the birth itself, and the idea of becoming a parent.
Postnatal Mental Health is the post-birth period, typically one-year post-birth. Common experiences include emotional sensitivity, anxiety, hopelessness, shame, and/or irritability.
Pregnancy and childbirth involve many physiological, hormonal, and anatomical changes of the body. These significant changes inevitably affect our brain’s normal state and function, which ultimately changes our psychological health. Pregnancy and childbirth are also a significant transition in life, when not only biological but also non-biological changes to lifestyle such as routine, work, exercise, socialising, and diet can have a detrimental impact on psychological health.
Although not widely discussed:
- Approximately 1 in 7 new mothers, and 1 in 10 new fathers will experience perinatal depression
- Up to 1 in 5 mums and 1 in 10 dads will experience perinatal anxiety and/or depression
- 1 to 2 in 1,000 women/birthing people experience postnatal psychosis
When should you seek help?
Perinatal and postnatal mental health conditions are not uncommon. In fact, they are far more common than many people realise. There are also many different forms of peri- and postnatal mental health challenges.
These include, but are not limited to:
In either parent (regardless of sex or gender) excessive and chronic feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and disconnection from newborn and other loved ones. Feelings of guilt and shame about not feeling immediately bonded with the newborn.
In either parent (regardless of sex or gender) excessive, chronic, and generalised worry, often centred around their newborn’s health and wellbeing, symptomized by excessive nervousness and stress.
Affecting 1-2 in 1000 birthing people, usually within the first four weeks post birth, but may be within the first 12 weeks. It may present as inability to sleep, significant behaviour changes, and loss of touch with reality through hallucinations or delusions.
Other generalised symptoms may include:
- Social withdrawal
- Disrupted sleep unrelated to baby’s needs
- Abrupt mood swings, prone to irritability
- Low self-worth
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty with memory and focus
- Changes to appetite (over-eating or under-eating)
- Behaviour changes, including reduced engagement with hobbies or interests
- Thoughts of self-harm, death, or suicide
- Extreme lethargy, a feeling of being physically and/or emotionally overwhelmed to the point of being unable to cope with looking after the baby
- Fear of being alone with the baby
- Intrusive thoughts or harm to yourself or the baby
According to PANDA, expectant parents have described their experience like:
- Anger or guilt about not having “normal” feelings of parental love
- Confusion or frustration when people say “you must be so happy!”
- Being overwhelmed by advice of doctors, families, and friends on how to manage the baby
- Wondering if the relationship with their partner will ever be the same
- Resenting physical changes to the body
How can we help you?
We offer compassionate and non-judgmental therapists with expertise in parenting and birth-related mental health, and women/birthing people’s health. We draw on a variety of techniques including:
- Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Mindfulness-based therapy
- Schema therapy
- Family Systems therapy
In addition to psychological support, there are a range of services that can provide support such as:
- PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia): 1300 726 306
- Mum for Mum: https://www.mumformum.org.au/supporting-parents748
- Peach Tree Perinatal wellness for free group support sessions
- Parentline: 1300 301 300
- Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
- Lifeline: 13 11 14