Knowing the Symptoms of Postnatal Depression and How to Help

Becoming a parent is an emotional time, so how do you know if your partner’s tears or moods are cause for serious concern? How can you help?

When women give birth it’s not just to a baby, but a new way of life. 

Add broken sleep, an unsettled bub, hormonal shifts and everyday stresses into the mix and it’s not surprising that many mothers find they’re crying almost as much as their baby! 

But what signs should you look out for in case their feelings are down to something more serious?  

Seeing the signs

Dr Gillian Rawlings, a practising Bupa GP, says, “One of the things we’ve noticed with women who have significant PND is that they feel they are a bad mother. They may have excessive fears about the baby’s safety, their parenting skills and their health.” 

She says other key signs that something could be wrong include appetite disturbances, exhaustion and difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep. Another worrying sign is if women have a consistently low mood for two weeks or more, and generally feel flat. 
 
Dr Rawlings adds, “As with regular depression, there is a loss of enjoyment of normal activities. If someone is finding they don’t have motivation or find it uncomfortable to leave the house, then there can be cause for concern.”

There’s a strong genetic component, so if your partner has a family history of depression or bipolar disorder then they are often at greater risk of PND.

Dr Rawlings points out that PND often begins during pregnancy but may go unnoticed until a few weeks after birth. So if you think your partner is a bit low before bub arrives, then it’s a good idea to encourage them to get some support and advice before the birth. 
couple holding hands

How to help

So what can you do if you are worried – especially if your partner doesn’t think there’s a problem? 

Dr Rawlings stresses the importance of picking the right time to have the conversation. 

“Have other supportive people around and make sure someone else is caring for the baby, and be fairly direct about it. For example, say: ‘I have some concerns and this is why…’” 

The next step is to see a family GP, maternal health nurse or even a family member if they have some experience in this area. Also, don’t forget that there are telephone helplines (listed at the end of this article).  

Dr Rawlings adds that although it may be hard to bring up or talk about, you are more likely to regret it if you don’t say something and the situation gets worse. 

It's not just mums

Of course, it’s not just women who experience postnatal depression – research shows that up to one in 20 Australian men are diagnosed with depression during the antenatal (during pregnancy) or postnatal (after pregnancy) period each year. 

“Fathers are often more at risk of having pregnancy-related depression that goes unnoticed or untreated, as the focus tends to be on the mother and baby. Also, men may be more reluctant to express emotional distress.” 

Keeping an open dialogue with your partner and encouraging one another to talk about how you are feeling as parents is crucial. And remember that help is at hand, so reach out for advice and support as soon as you need it.

Helplines 

  • Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24/7, 365 days of the year)
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 22 46 36 (24/7, 365 days of the year)
  • PANDA (Post and Antenatal Depression Association): 1300 726 306 (10am-5pm AEST, Monday to Friday)
  • SANE helpline: 1800 187 263 (9am-5pm Monday to Friday)
  • Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277 (8am-8pm Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm Saturday)
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