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Perinatal Anxiety and Depression – Part 2: The details you really need to know

Perinatal mental health is a topic close to the heart of Go Mama.  In fact, it is the reason behind how the brand was created.  Did you know that 1 in 4 women are affected by perinatal depression?  And 1 in 10 men are affected too? 


Here we shine a light on perinatal anxiety and depression in the hope it is informative and can help by providing reassurance that feelings are valid, common and treatable. 



What is Perinatal Anxiety and Perinatal Depression, and what’s the difference between them?


Perinatal anxiety (PNA) and depression (PND) are both common mental health conditions that can occur during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. While they share some similarities, there are also some important differences between the two conditions. 


Perinatal anxiety refers to feelings of excessive worry, fear or nervousness that occur during pregnancy or in the postpartum period. It is a normal response to the stress and uncertainty of becoming a parent, but in some cases it can become overwhelming and interfere with daily life. Some common symptoms include constant worry or fear, physical symptoms such as sweating, shaking or heart palpitations, and difficulty sleeping or concentrating. 


Perinatal depression is characterised by feelings of sadness, hopelessness and a lack of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable. Some common symptoms include low mood, irritability, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite and feelings of worthlessness or guilt.


Postnatal depression (also known as postpartum depression), affects new mothers after they have given birth and can occur anytime in the first year after childbirth, although it usually develops within the first few weeks or months.


Postnatal depression can cause feelings of sadness, anxiety, and low mood, as well as other symptoms such as loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping (which can be a tricky one to recognise in those early days with a new baby!) and a lack of interest in your baby. It can also interfere with a mother’s ability to care for her newborn and may affect her relationships with her partner and other family members.


It is common for new parents to experience a range of emotions during the postpartum period, including happiness, joy and love, but also frustration, exhaustion and overwhelm.  Feeling  unhappy or struggling to adjust to parenthood is not uncommon, but it is the persistence of these feelings and the severity of them that may indicate you are experiencing postnatal depression.



How do you ‘get’ Perinatal Anxiety and Depression?


It is likely to be a result of a combination of biological, psychological and social factors.  Some possible factors that can contribute to the development of perinatal anxiety and depression include:


1.       Birth trauma.  Complications during birth, or traumatic experiences during childbirth can increase the risk of developing PNA and/or PND.


2.       Hormonal changes.  After giving birth, a woman’s hormone levels rapidly fluctuate, and this can affect her mood and emotions.


3.       Personal or family history of anxiety or depression.  Women with a history of anxiety or depression, or those with a family history of these conditions are at higher risk of developing PNA and PND.


4.       Lack of support.  Lack of support from a partner, family or friends can lead to feelings of isolation, stress and overwhelm.


5.       Stressful life events.  Financial stress, relationship difficulties or other stressful life events can contribute to the development of PNA and PND.


It is important to remember that this can happen to anyone, regardless of age, race or socioeconomic status, and that it is not a sign of weakness or failure as a mother.  While it can be a difficult and distressing experience, it is important to remember that it is treatable.



What treatments are available for Perinatal Anxiety and Depression?


Talking to a healthcare professional such as your midwife, GP or therapist can be a helpful first step in managing and overcoming PNA and PND.  Early intervention can improve outcomes and prevent symptoms from becoming more severe.


There are several effective treatments for PNA and PND, and the choice of treatment will depend on the severity of the symptoms and individual circumstances.  Some common treatments include:


1.       Self-care.  Simple self-care measures such as regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and engaging in enjoyable activities can help alleviate symptoms.


2.       Social support.  Building a supportive network of family and friends, joining a support group or working with a therapist or counsellor can provide emotional support and practical help.


3.       Antidepressant medication.  Antidepressant medication can be prescribed by a Doctor to help alleviate symptoms.  It is important to note that some antidepressant medications are safe to use while pregnant and breastfeeding, but others may not be, so it’s important to discuss this with your doctor first.


4.       Talking therapy.  Talking therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can help identify and challenge negative thought patterns and develop coping strategies.

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Parenthood can be both rewarding, enjoyable and challenging, and it is okay to ask for help or take time for yourself when needed.  Taking care of your own well-being is not only important for your own mental health but can also benefit your baby and the whole family.


If you, or someone you know, may be experiencing symptoms of Perinatal Depression or Anxiety, please reach out for help.  Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Aotearoa has a wide range of helpful resources or contact your midwife or GP.

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