Becoming a parent and caring for an infant is both a joyful experience and a challenging and stressful one. In the weeks leading up to and following birth, women are uniquely susceptible to depression because many physical, psychological, and developmental changes have occurred in a very short amount of time. Similarly, becoming a father can cause high levels of anxiety due to a lack of confidence in parenting skills, less time spent with their partner and a temporary change in household roles.
Although the symptoms are similar to depression in general, the consequences of postnatal depression are more significant due to the negative impact on a parent’s relationship with their new-born child.
Pre – Birth
The three key indicators of postnatal wellness and coping for both mothers and fathers are prenatal mental health, relationship satisfaction, and self-efficacy in your skills as a parent. If you feel anxious, unhappy or unsettled in your relationship, or as though you don’t have the knowledge or skills to positively influence the development and behaviour of your baby, then it is recommended that you seek psychological support before your baby enters your lives.
Post – Birth
It is normal to go through the ‘baby blues’ – nearly 80% of women show symptoms of depression after having a baby. Although being a new parent may seem incredibly overwhelming at first, stress levels usually reduce as mothers gain confidence with their parenting abilities. Research suggests that father’s risk of anxiety reduces immediately post-birth, however depression can occur if you have difficulties bonding with your baby.
In 8 – 20% of women, parenting stress doesn’t reduce and may lead to symptoms of clinically diagnosable depression. If you feel as though your symptoms of stress and depression are not reducing, it is very important to address this with a registered Psychologist. Ongoing stress between you and your new baby can have a negative impact on your relationship with them, and their ongoing cognitive and behavioural development.
Signs that you might have Postnatal Depression:
- Low moods
- Loss of interest and enjoyment
- Loss of confidence
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Loss of concentration
- Suicidal thoughts
Research suggests that there are some ways to reduce the impact of postnatal depression, including:
- Surround yourself with positive and supportive people and try to remain positive yourself. Research indicates that criticism of a child or the mother-child relationship is associated with increased levels of postpartum depression.
- Reduce boredom and loneliness after your baby is born by scheduling social outings and attending parenting groups.
- Increase the amount of support and help you have by selecting a regular visiting day and time for family members and close friends for the first 3 – 6 months (make it a convenient as possible so that cancelled visits are kept to a minimum).
- Read books, ask questions and don’t be afraid to trust your instincts. Remember your new baby is a little human and they will communicate with you in their own special way.
Barnes et al. (2007). Factors associated with negative emotional expression: a study of mothers of young infants. Journal of Reproductive and infant Psychology, 25 (2), 122 – 138.
Biehle, S., & Mickelson, K. (2011). Preparing for parenthood: How feelings of responsibility and efficacy impact expectant parents. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 28 (5), 668 – 683.
Gjerdingen, D., Katon, W., & Rich, D. (2008). Stepped care treatment of postpartum depression: A primary care-based management model. Women’s Health Issues, 18, 44 – -52.
Sorenson, D. (2010). Prevalence of negative birth perception, disaffirmation, perinatal trauma symptoms and depression among postpartum women. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 46 (1), 14 – 25.