Perinatal Mental Health

Pregnancies can be very exciting and times of pure joy; however, they can also be scary and tumultuous. Medical conditions, uncertainty and the family’s socio-cultural situation may all challenge the ability to enjoy the pregnancy and give birth to a child who can thrive.

When anxiety or depression occurs during pregnancy it is referred to as antenatal anxiety or antenatal depression. Up to 1 in 10 women and 1 in 20 men experience antenatal depression. Anxiety is just as common, and many parents experience anxiety and depression at the same time.

It is normal to experience a degree of anxiety and ‘ups and downs’ when expecting a baby. However, some people develop a more pronounced anxiety or lower mood (depression) which affects their daily life and functioning.

The signs and symptoms of antenatal anxiety and depression can vary and may include:

  • Panic attacks (a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
  • Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health or wellbeing of the baby
  • The development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours
  • Abrupt mood swings
  • Feeling constantly sad, low, or crying for no obvious reason
  • Being nervous, ‘on edge’, or panicky

The perinatal period (pre-conception through a baby’s first year of life) can be complicated by such factors as medically high-risk pregnancies, premature/sick newborns, drug use by the pregnant woman and/or her family, familial conflict, legal concerns, parents who have cognitive, behavioural and/or mental health needs, ambivalence about the pregnancy, and poverty. Even healthy pregnancies with optimal psychosocial conditions can be affected by anxiety and uncertainty as individuals make the transition to parenthood.

When anxiety or depression begins in the year after birth, it is referred to as postnatal anxiety or postnatal depression. More than 1 in 7 new mums and up to 1 in 10 new dads experience postnatal depression each year in Australia. Postnatal anxiety is just as common, and many parents experience anxiety and depression at the same time. Postnatal anxiety and depression can be a frightening and isolating experience as parents try to deal with their symptoms at the same time as needing to care for a new baby.

The signs and symptoms of postnatal anxiety and depression can vary and may include:

  • Panic attacks (a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
  • Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health or wellbeing of baby
  • The development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours
  • Increased sensitivity to noise or touch
  • Changes in appetite, under or overeating
  • Sleep problems unrelated to the baby’s needs
  • Extreme lethargy, a feeling of being physically or emotionally overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands of chores and looking after baby
  • Memory problems or loss of concentration (‘brain fog’)
  • Loss of confidence and lowered self esteem
  • Constant sadness or crying
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Fear of being alone with baby
  • Intrusive thoughts of harm to yourself or baby
  • Irritability and/or anger
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is very important that you talk to a doctor who you are comfortable with or is experienced in this area. Our GPs at The Bubble are happy to see you for assessment and management. They may also refer you to our in house perinatal mental health social worker.

Perinatal social workers work to support women and families as they navigate medical challenges, process complex information about pregnancies and neonates (birth to age 1), and access community supports. Perinatal social workers help with planning and nurture hope as families move toward their future.

Perinatal social workers intervene to:

  1. Work with women and families to assess their strengths and challenges as they approach child-bearing;
  2. Ameliorate the effects of psychosocial and medical challenges by working directly with the woman and family, while also assisting them to access long term supportive services where needed;
  3. Assist in creating healthy and nurturing parent-child relationships;
  4. Advocate for the woman and her family within the health care setting and in the community.

When a perinatal loss occurs (infertility, miscarriage, still birth or neonatal death), the perinatal social worker helps families to understand, express, and cope with feelings of grief and assists as they learn to live with their "new normal."

The goal of perinatal social work is to ascertain that every baby and every family is supported with competent compassionate care.

Our social worker accepts referrals from GPs in the community.