Having a baby is both an exciting and challenging time. However, the symptoms of anxiety or depression can make it difficult to function and often individuals can feel like they are not good enough.

Both women and men can experience perinatal (during pregnancy and the year after birth) mental health concerns, which can vary in intensity and symptoms. While parents can often experience a sense of guilt or shame that prevents them from seeking support, research has found that up to 1 in 10 women and 1 in 20 men experience depression and anxiety during pregnancy. Experiencing perinatal anxiety or depression does not make you a ‘bad parent’. In fact, seeking help early leads to a faster recovery with less impact on you, your relationship with your baby, partner, and family.

Some of the most common pregnancy related concerns are;

  • Uncertainty about having a child – Although there are many individuals who hold positive views about having a child, there is often a level of apprehension about being pregnant and giving birth. In fact, for many individuals, having their first baby is ‘a bit frightening’. These concerns can be related to the physical changes that occur during pregnancy or anxiety about the pain associated with childbirth, particularly where a traumatic or painful birth has occurred in the past.
  • Timing of pregnancy – Although some individuals might have a strong desire to have children, the idea that they are now suddenly pregnant can be quite confronting. Concerns such as age, partners age, financial difficulties, current health status (including experiencing an eating disorder), proximity of current pregnancy to previous pregnancy or previous health concerns.
  • Uncertainty about being a parent – The responsibility of caring for another person (baby, toddler, adolescent) can be quite daunting. Research has shown that a person’s confidence to be a parent varies greatly. Some people might not have had much exposure to young children or may not have had positive parenting models to base their own parenting behaviours. Most people receive no formal training in parenting techniques and often individuals do not want to repeat the parenting models they experienced themselves as a child.
  • Commitment to being a parent – Commitment to parenthood typically requires a long-term investment in a family structure. This structure has ‘costs and benefits’ associated with it. Costs could include the financial burden associated with rearing children (housing, clothing, feeding, schooling and recreational activities) and the restrictions on work and lifestyle. While many individuals are willing to take on these commitments, others find them too restricting.

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

  • Panic attacks (racing heart, 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
  • Feeling constantly tiered or lacking energy
  • Having little or no interest in all the normal things that bring joy (like time with friends, exercise, eating,or sharing partner time)
  • Sleeping too much or not sleeping very well at all
  • Losing interest in sex or intimacy
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Being easily annoyed or irritated
  • Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember (people with depression often describe this as a ‘brain fog’)
  • Engaging in more risk taking behaviour (e.g., alcohol or drug use)
  • Having thoughts of death or suicide
  • Having thoughts of hurting your baby or children

If you are concerned about what you or your partner are experiencing, discuss your concern with your GP. While new parents with babies often visit their GP for the baby’s sake, it is important to build a relationship with a GP for parent’s sake too. If necessary, GP’s can refer individuals to see a psychologist for support during this time. Psychologist Beth Reid at Bulimba Psychology has undergone additional training to work with individuals experiencing mental health concerns during the perinatal period.