Becoming a mum can be a wonderful, life changing experience. You have your brand new, beautiful bub, you’re stepping into a new phase of life and the feelings of love can be tremendously sweet.
But it can also be an overwhelming, even difficult, experience – and one that many new mums feel afraid to acknowledge. You might find the responsibility for both your own and your newborn’s health and wellbeing challenging. You might find the changes in your body confronting. And you might find the constant and different demands on you to be frustrating.
It’s important to know that you’re not alone and that there is nothing wrong with you.Many new mums feel the same way.
What is important is not to let those changes, challenges and frustrations get you down. Checking in on your own mental health is an important step to take in managing your own wellbeing so that you can be there for yourself and your new family.
Perinatal Mental Health Week
Perinatal Mental Health Week in Australia is 6 to 12 November 2022. This week was created by PANDA and has been marked each year since 2005. Its purpose is to help health professionals and the community improve their understanding of perinatal mental health.
The theme this year is ‘building your community of care’. And that’s a fantastic theme because research shows that community is a key element of your mental health support, particularly during the perinatal period.
New Mum mental health
‘Perinatal’ is the period from the start of pregnancy until a year following birth. This period brings significant change in many aspects of a new parent’s life. Up to one in five pregnant or new mothers (and one in ten expectant or new fathers) experience perinatal anxiety or perinatal depression. In Australia this means that around 100,000 families experience perinatal anxiety or depression each year.
Your mental health during the perinatal period can be impacted by your:
- Experience of being a parent. For example, how well you feel you are bonding with your child and whether you have any difficulties feeding or sleeping.
- Relationships – with your partner, your wider family, your friends and colleagues.
- Pregnancy and birth experience.
New Mum Mental Health – What to look for
Becoming a parent for the first time can be stressful and overwhelming. Everything can feel new and uncertain. Depending on what family and friend support you have around you, it can feel difficult to find your feet, create routines and feel like yourself. Add in any difficulties surrounding sleep, health and relationships, and feelings of anxiety and sadness can take hold.
You might think – and people may tell you – that these feelings are ‘normal’. But don’t discount them. Be aware of the things you can look out for when it comes to new mum mental health and know that you can (and should!) ask for help and support.
Signs of perinatal anxiety or depression
Signs of perinatal anxiety or depression can include:
- Worry and fears that are persistent or overwhelming. These feelings may focus on the health or safety or your baby generally. Or they may be more specific – for example, the fear that you may do something to harm yourself or your baby.
- Behaviours that become obsessive or compulsive. For example, extreme hygiene behaviours due to an overwhelming fear of giving your child a disease or illness.
- Low mood, irritability or persistent crying.
- Loss of interest in daily activities and interactions that may previously have brought you joy.
- Being unable to sleep, regardless of how well your baby may (or may not!) be sleeping.
- Changes in appetite and / or increased consumption of alcohol.
- Changed sense of self or a lowering of self-esteem.
- Fear of being alone with your baby.
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions.
It’s important to remember that perinatal depression is different from the baby blues. The baby blues will pass, but perinatal depression will not pass without treatment. Only your healthcare professional can diagnose perinatal depression, but it’s important not to leave it and hope for the best. You don’t have to feel this way. Reach out for help as soon as you can.
New Mum Mental Health Checklist
If through your pregnancy or new motherhood you have increasingly experienced difficult thoughts, feelings and / or behaviours about yourself, your partner, your baby or more generally, it’s a good idea to work through PANDA’s New Mum Mental Health Checklist.
Remember, the checklist is not a diagnostic tool. A diagnosis of perinatal anxiety or depression can only be made by a mental health professional. Completing the checklist, however, can improve your own understanding of your thoughts and feelings, and help you to know whether it’s time to seek professional support.
Help, Support and Treatment
New mum mental health challenges are not things you have to ‘work through’. Perinatal anxiety and depression are treatable. Your GP and antenatal / postnatal care team are well aware of the challenges around perinatal depression and can work with you to get the treatment you need. And our team, or your own mental health professional, can certainly help as well.
The most important message here is to be sure to talk about your thoughts and feelings. Don’t bottle them up or think they’re just part of new parenthood. You and your new family can get amazing help through this process, and you’ll come out the other side healthier and happier.
Author: Di O’Malley – Founder and Managing Director of Young Minds Health and Development Network, and Counselling Psychologist.
Please call us on (07) 3857 0074 to book an appointment with one of our clinicians. Or send us an Appointment Request via this website and we’ll contact you as soon as possible to book a suitable time for you.