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Looking after your mental health during Pregnancy, Birth, and Beyond - 10 Facts all parents need to know!

Pregnancy and new parenthood can be a challenging time for some so it is important to know the facts and know help is available.

  1. Postpartum depression is not the same as the “baby blues.” Many Mums know the phrase “baby blues” but it is important to understand there is a difference between the baby blues and postpartum mood disorder. Baby blues is normal and extremely common in mums. It is due to the rapid hormonal changes occurring in the body after birth. The baby blues usually occurs for the first few weeks postpartum and may include; crying, low mood, irritability, tearfulness and anxiety.  The blues should lift after the first few weeks so if your symptoms last longer, it is time to see your GP for further mental health assessment. Some of the screening and assessment tools that may be used to determine if you are experiencing postpartum depression are the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and the K-10. Please speak with your doctor about how these assessments are done and how results are interpreted.  
  2. Postpartum mood disorders don’t always show up within the first six weeks after birth. Many Mums are told that if postpartum mood disorders are going to happen it is usually within the first six weeks postpartum. While this is true for many Mums, it is not always the case. Mothers can experience postpartum depression and anxiety for up to the first year after their baby is born. Most mothers are only screened within the first six weeks so it is critical that mothers who experience symptoms beyond this point, see their GP and advocate to be screened and assessed for appropriate referrals.     
  3. Men can also experience postpartum depression and anxiety. Many Dads experience mental health concerns during pregnancy and postpartum. Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia reports, “1 in 20 men experience depression during pregnancy (antenatal) and up to 1 in 10 new dads struggle with depression following the birth of their baby (postnatal).” Although many men may experience sadness, low mood and crying, it is important to also recognise other symptoms. Men may also display symptoms such as; anger, irritability, withdrawal from baby, partner and friends, muscle tension and headache. If you suspect your partner is suffering from perinatal depression or anxiety encourage him to see a GP for assessment and referral options. You can also find more information through PANDA www.panda.org.au and Beyond Blue’s Dadvice www.healthyfamilies.beyondblue.org.au
  4. In addition to postpartum depression, Mums may also experience anxiety or other mood disorders. While perinatal (pregnancy and postpartum) depression is often the most well-known mental health concern during pregnancy and birth, there are a variety of other disorders that Mums may experience. Many Mums report anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and panic attacks in addition to postpartum psychosis (which is rare but very serious if left untreated). If you notice a change in your mental state which continues for longer than two weeks please seek support. You are not alone and asking for help does not make you a bad mother.  
  5. Postpartum psychosis is rare but it is important to know the signs and symptoms. Postnatal psychosis, also known as puerperal or postpartum psychosis, is a serious mental illness that affects 1 to 2 women in every 1000 (PANDA). While not as common as other perinatal mental health disorders, postnatal psychosis can be life threatening therefore, early treatment is critical. Psychosis causes a loss of contact with reality, so a mother’s behaviour may be out of character or out of control. She may have hallucinations (hear, see or smell things that are not real) or delusional thoughts/beliefs (that are out of touch with reality). Symptoms normally present within the first four weeks after giving birth but can occur up to twelve weeks after birth. Sometimes the symptoms aren’t recognised until later. Once recognised, postnatal psychosis is treatable through medication, hospitalisation and ongoing community support (PANDA).
  6. Any new Mum can experience PNDA (postnatal depression and anxiety) but there are certain factors that can increase a Mums risk. Any mother can experience postnatal anxiety and depression however, there are factors that may increase a mother’s risk. These include - Prior mental health history before pregnancy or throughout pregnancy, Past history of postpartum depression, Pregnancy complications, Premature or sick baby, Social isolation, Hormonal sensitivity, Lack of social supports, Pregnancy loss, and Health problems related to the mother
  7. Postpartum depression does not go away on its own. Unlike the baby blues, if left untreated, postpartum depression will not go away on its own. In fact, many times it can and will get worse. Therefore, it is important that if you are feeling mentally unwell for over a month you let a loved one or your GP know.
  8. Having postpartum depression does not make you a bad mother. If you find you are experiencing mental health concerns during or after birth this does not make you a bad mother. More than 1 in 7 new mums will experience postpartum depression and 1 in 10 women will experience antenatal (during pregnancy) depression (PANDA). Asking for help should not been seen as a weakness but as a strength. By reaching out for support your mental health will improve and you will be able to better care for yourself and your family. You can’t pour from an empty cup so, it is important that mothers prioritise and nurture their emotional and physical wellbeing.
  9. Planning for the postpartum period is just as important as planning for birth. Many mothers spend significant time planning for the birth of their baby. Having a birth plan is important but, many women forget to also plan for postpartum. A mother’s postpartum journey is a time of significant change and transformation so it is essential that thought goes into planning and preparing. Postpartum planning may not eliminate the risk of postpartum depression and anxiety, but being prepared and exploring your supports and expectations can help to reduce the impact of depression/anxiety if it does occur.  You can talk to your partner, a friend or health care professional about your postpartum wishes and desires. It may help to write them down and share them with the people in your postpartum support network.   
  10. If you or someone you know is experiencing changes in their mental health during pregnancy or postpartum help is available. The take home message is, if you think you, or someone you know, is experiencing changes in their mental health during or after pregnancy seek support. Perinatal mental health issues are very common. You are not alone and you are not a bad parent. There are a variety of services and treatment options available to support you. Speak to someone about your concerns whether that be your partner, friend, maternal health nurse or your GP who can assess you further and make appropriate referrals. There are also hotlines you can call such as PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) 1300 726, Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline 13 11 14. Do not suffer alone. If we share our stories and reach out for support, together we can raise awareness of perinatal mental health issues and remove the guilt and shame that often surrounds a common experience for many mother’s and parents.

This blog has been written by guest author Stefanie. Stefanie is passionate about raising awareness around perinatal mental health. Her motherhood journey motivated her to start Project Afterglow to support women and their families in the pre and postnatal period. Project Afterglow offers home visiting counselling and consulting services for expectant or new mothers and their families allowing them to nurture and prioritise their emotional wellbeing before, during and after birth. Mums are empowered to restore resilience and harness the power and strength to reclaim and maintain their mama glow! Stefanie has extensive experience working in the mental health and addiction fields both in the USA and Australia. She is a Registered Counsellor (Australian Counselling Association) and has a Bachelor’s degree in Counselling Psychology (USA) and a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counselling (USA). Stefanie believes knowledge is power and looks forward to providing women and their families with resources and support. For more information about Project Afterglow contact Stefanie on 0435 875 035 or visit www.projectafterglow.com

References: PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia)

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