How do you know if you have postnatal depression/ anxiety?

If you’re reading this, you might have heard about postnatal anxiety and depression and wondering if this could be happening to you.

So, you’ve had a baby. You might have anticipated a little upheaval and adjustment, but perhaps being a new parent doesn’t look or feel anything like how you imagined. 

Having a baby is certainly a challenging time. Your world has been turned upside down in one of life’s greatest transitions. 

It can be difficult to know whether what you’re experiencing is part of the normal stressors of new parenthood or something else. 

In any case, you’re not alone, many new parents around Australia are in the same boat and there are a variety of supports available. We can help you identify your symptoms to decide which kind of support you need.

WACPPS are on a mission to create safe spaces for parents to talk openly about the weird, wonderful and honest realities of raising a child and the range of unexpected thoughts and feelings that arise. We want to reduce the stigma of perinatal mental health and increase access and support to parents around Australia.

It is more common than you think

Postnatal depression and anxiety is the term for anxiety and/ or depression that begins within the year after giving birth.

Each year in Australia over 1 in 7 mums and 1 in 10 dads experience postnatal depression or anxiety. Both men and women have a greater chance of experiencing mental health issues during the first years after the birth of their child, and women can begin to experience symptoms during their pregnancy.

Struggling with depression or anxiety can add complications to what is already a testing time and put strain on your relationships. As new parents it can be easy to slide into guilt or shame, but seeking help early can minimise the impact on you and your family and mean a quicker recovery time for all. 

Parents lying with newborn baby in bed

How some parents experience postnatal depression/anxiety

  • Some parents begin to experience postnatal anxiety or depression as guilt or worry about not having the ‘normal’ ‘maternal/ paternal’ feelings.
  • Some are frustrated or confused by feeling so low when everyone around them expects them to be so happy.
  • The well-meaning opinions and advice offered by friends, family, or health professionals can be overwhelming and confusing.
  • Some new mums might be recovering from difficult/ traumatic births. They might be adjusting to changes to their bodies and managing pain or disassociation.
  • Some new parents feel grief and loss at the sudden change in their identities, they might find it hard to relate or feel a sense of belonging in their usual social circles.
  • Some parents feel heightened tension with their partner and worry the relationship will never be the same.

So what’s the difference between the Baby Blues and Postnatal depression?

It’s not unusual for women to feel irritable, teary or anxious in the first few days after giving birth. Hormone levels take a dip after giving birth so it’s normal to have mood swings that are intensified by lack of sleep and all the changes that come with a new baby.

With a good dose of understanding, support, and sleep, this usually resolves itself within a week or two.

If the experience continues or intensifies beyond 2 weeks, it might be time to see your GP or child health nurse for advice and support. They can help you screen your symptoms for postnatal anxiety/ depression and discuss the best support for you.

Symptoms of postnatal depression and/or anxiety

mother sitting on the bed with baby experiencing postnatal depression

Symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety may include:

  • Extreme fatigue and lethargy feeling unable to cope emotionally or physically with the demands of looking after a baby
  • Persistent worry about the health of your baby
  • Loss of confidence/ self-esteem about your ability to parent
  • Anxiety about being alone with your baby
  • Intrusive thoughts about harm to yourself or your baby
  • Obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviours (i.e., checking)
  • Anger/ irritability
  • Changes in appetite (over or under-eating)
  • Persistent sadness/ constant crying
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Difficulty sleeping (unrelated to your baby’s needs)
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, feeling ‘brain fog’
  • Panic attacks (i.e., scary thoughts, racing heart, shortness of breath)
  • Feeling detached from yourself or your environment.
  • Losing interest in the things that used to bring pleasure (exercise, eating, socialising)
  • Risk taking (i.e., drug or alcohol use)
  • Thoughts about death or suicide

Postnatal depression and anxiety can be a lonely experience for parents. Trying to manage your own symptoms as well as caring for an infant is overwhelming, but there are many services and supports available to help you through this time. Organisations like PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) offer a helpline service for any expecting or new parent needing support with the challenges of becoming a parent.

At WACPPS we offer services such as counselling, support groups and workshops for women and their family to help them adjust to parenthood. For more information, call our office or send us a message.

Sign up for our next perinatal & parenting group or workshop

Western Australian Centre for Perinatal Mental Health & Parenting Support (WACPPS) provides services to help parents navigate the challenging but rewarding journey of parenting.

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If you have any questions about this article or Western Australian Centre for Perinatal Mental Health & Parenting Support (WACPPS), feel free to contact us.