While welcoming a new life into the world can be a time of absolute joy, the postnatal period can also bring a range of unexpected challenges for parents, particularly when it comes to mental health.
Postnatal depression (PND) affects up to 1 in 5 mums, and 1 in 10 dads in the first year of their baby’s life. Unlike the transient and milder 'baby blues,' PND symptoms persist for longer than two weeks and significantly impact day-to-day functioning. PND usually does not resolve without additional intervention and support. Symptoms can include:
feelings of hopelessness,
significant low mood
loss of interest in others (including your new baby)
significant difficulty managing daily activities,
sleep disturbances (irrespective of your newborn’s sleep schedule),
changes in appetite,
low mood, and
thoughts of harming oneself or the baby.
Differentiating PND from ‘Baby Blues’
Baby blues typically occur in the first week or two after childbirth and are characterised by feelings of tearfulness, difficulty sleeping, and heightened emotions. They tend to have less of an impact on your ability to manage day-to-day tasks. These symptoms are often attributed to hormonal changes following pregnancy and birth, and they tend to resolve on their own without lasting consequences.
Postnatal Anxiety and Postpartum Psychosis
In addition to PND, postnatal anxiety is another common mental health concern. It is characterised by strong feelings of worry or fear that are difficult to control (e.g., worrying excessively about your new baby, feeling scared of being alone), a sense of dread and physiological symptoms of anxiety (e.g., increased heart rate).
On the more severe end of the spectrum is postpartum psychosis, a rare but serious condition where mothers can lose touch with reality. Symptoms can include confusion, significant agitation, restlessness, hallucinations (hearing/seeing things that are not there) and/or delusions (rigid and untrue beliefs that are likely to be distressing). Postpartum psychosis can come on quickly and is often highly distressing for mum and her loved ones. Postpartum psychosis requires immediate psychiatric assessment and support.
There are various risk factors that can increase a mother’s chance of developing postnatal mental health issues, including:
previous pregnancy loss,
a baby who is difficult to settle,
a history of depression or mental health struggles,
limited social support,
a history of abuse, and
younger age (under 25yo).
How Psychology Can Help
Navigating postnatal mental health is a complex journey that requires understanding, compassion, and proactive support. Evidence-based psychological therapy can help support individuals experiencing postnatal mental health struggles. Therapeutic interventions such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can provide valuable tools for coping, understanding, and navigating the complexities of postnatal mental health. Psychologists will work collaboratively with you to find the best approach that works for you and empower you with new skills to boost your confidence in parenting, increase emotional wellbeing and improve your support systems to reclaim joy in your journey through parenthood.
At NLC Psychology, clinical psychologist Emma Hunt has a special interest in pre- and post-natal mental health. Call us on 08 8373 5655 for more information or to book an appointment with Emma.