Postnatal Anxiety & Depression
The experience of creating a new life and becoming a parent is indescribable. Nothing can prepare you for the journey ahead with your newborn. For some, the overwhelming stress of parenting can become too much and 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 and depression can be a frightening and isolating experience as parents try to deal with their symptoms at the same time as caring for a new baby. There are treatments, supports and services available to help you through this experience. If symptoms last for more than two weeks, it’s time to seek support.
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
Thoughts of death or suicide
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
Postnatal Psychosis - also known as Puerperal or Postpartum Psychosis
Postnatal Psychosis can be a potentially life-threatening condition that can put both mother and baby at risk so recognising symptoms and seeking urgent medical assistance is essential.
Postnatal psychosis is a form of acute mental illness that usually occurs within the first four weeks after giving birth but may occur up to 12 weeks post birth.
Most people know little, if anything about postnatal psychosis so when one experiences it, it comes as a shock. It can often happen ‘out of the blue’ to women without any previous history of mental illness. Changes in behaviour and thinking are often sudden and dramatic.
Postnatal psychosis can cause a loss of contact with reality, and behaviour that seems out of character.
Fortunately postnatal psychosis is temporary and treatable. Women generally experience a full recovery with time and appropriate treatment and go on to mother their children as they expected to.
The symptoms are generally sudden and very noticeable, and can include:
Extreme sudden mood swings, from very high to very low
Aggressive or even violent behaviour
A high level of agitation
Irrational or delusional thoughts or beliefs, which may include irrational beliefs or thoughts about the baby
Hallucinations and changes in sense perception, such as smelling, hearing or seeing things that are not actually there
Paranoid or strange beliefs about the baby that cannot be countered by rational discussion
Grandiose or unrealistic beliefs about own abilities as a mother
Unusual or inappropriate responses to the baby
Thoughts and conversations may be disordered or nonsensical.
If you’re worried you may have or someone you know may have Postnatal Psychosis, please seek urgent medical assistance.
You are not alone, and you don’t have to go through it alone.
- References -
PANDA - 1300 726 306
A little story from Kris (Sam’s sister)
I am a mum of two beautiful little girls, Bridie and Olive. I feel that opening up and sharing my story on postnatal anxiety & depression is extremely important as no one deserves to suffer in silence. It can happen to anyone and it happened to me.
Just days after the birth of Olive (my second born), in December 2017, things seemed great. ‘I’ve totally got this,’ I’d say to myself. My heart felt so full of pride, love and happiness. As the days went on, the adrenaline that I had been running on was starting to disappear and the sleep deprivation started to kick in – as it does to everyone in those early days.
Olive was quite an unsettled baby. She would scream and I mean scream! A lot! For hours! And, she didn’t like to sleep much! Come 4pm - every day without fail - she would cry until about 10pm, sometimes until midnight.
I’d question everything.
Maybe she had colic? Maybe she had a tongue-tie? Maybe she was lactose intolerant? Maybe it was just witching hour and it would pass? Maybe she was hungry - we had a lot of breast-feeding issues, I got mastitis twice – I had no idea, but I was desperate for answers! "What is wrong with my baby?" This went on for months.
We had every professional look at her. The doctor, mid wife, lactation consultant, chiropractor, pediatrician, dentist, sleep consultant, and the list goes on….
Turns out, there was nothing wrong with Olive. She was a healthy baby. She just required a lot of attention.
It was me who had a problem, not Olive. My expectations on how things ‘should’ be were unrealistic.
I remember the first day I went along to a Mothers-group - it ended up being the only time I attended. We all sat in a circle, chatting about our lives with our new baby. To me, everyone else seemed like they had it all together and they would speak about how wonderful everything is. When it came to my turn to speak – mind you, I had only had two hours sleep the night before – I broke down! I started crying. Sobbing, uncontrollably in front of everyone. It was in that very moment I realised, things were not okay. I was not okay.
I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I felt flat, deflated and lost all confidence. I was frustrated and felt like I had failed as a Mother. I then came crashing down, hard!
My anxiety began to peak. I was shaky, my heart would race, my mind would spin with crazy, dark thoughts. My legs and stomach became so tense. I lost my appetite. I couldn’t sleep at night. I had hit rock bottom…..
I started avoiding situations in case Olive would scream or I’d always have an escape route in mind incase I needed to get out of a situation, fast! I was operating in flight mode, constantly on edge. I didn’t want to leave the house. I was in a dark place and felt very alone.
My diary note from 27.3.2018 - I feel overwhelmed. I can’t keep going like this. Lack of sleep. Lack of support. I want to run away…..
The biggest and most challenging step for me was admitting that I was struggling. I always appear to have my life together and I guess you could say I'm quite a positive person, always very encouraging to others. So for me to put my hand up and say that I was struggling was extremely hard. But I knew I had to do something.
I couldn’t go on living like this.
I opened up to my husband, well actually, I exploded! I yelled, I screamed and cried. I hated the person I was becoming. I hated my life. This was not how I expected things to be. And James, being the wonderful man that he is was so supportive and encouraged me to seek some professional help.
I went to the doctors and got a referral to see a Psychologist. I started seeing her straight away, she was wonderful. We worked together weekly, for a good few months.
I was literally living in survival mode, as I found the very basic day to day demands hard. I started taking things very slowly, breath by breath, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Just doing the very simple things to survive and care for my family and myself. And slowly - very slowly - I started to see the light. It took me a very long time to find it as when you’re in such a dark place it can be difficult….. but believe me…… there is light!
What I found amazing, the moment I put my hand up and admitted I wasn't coping, my friends and family were there for me. I have a lot of people to thank for getting me through those dark days. In particular my wonderful husband and sister. They saw it all. They were with me and guided me through every step of the way.
I still have bad days where my anxiety will peak but I now understand what helps me and what my triggers are.
Olive is still not a great sleeper, she’s very cheeky, adventurous and is full of life. She has definitely taught me a lot and continues to challenge me. Looking back, my expectations were extremely high and unrealistic, and I was just trying to do too much. My first born - Bridie - was a completely different baby. She was (and still is) very content, happy and placid. She slept through from an early age and I was able to get her into a good routine early on. I’ve learnt that no two babies/ children are the same, in fact Bridie and Olive are polar opposites.
I truly believe everything happens in life for a reason and you are only ever given what you can handle. My children are my greatest gifts and have taught me (and continue to teach me) some big life lessons.
I hope my story can bring light to someone, somewhere out there. If you’re in a similar situation, it does get easier, believe me. Don't give up. Just keep going, you will get through this. You’re doing a wonderful job. And, always remember you are never alone.
Sending light, love and strength,
PS - I’ve listed below some things that have helped me -
Avoid looking at social media as I often compare myself to others, in particular other Mums
Avoid my phone
Reduce my daily to- do list
Read - this is a great book (and podcast too) - Happy Mama by Amy Taylor-Kabbaz
Take a walk
Have a shower
Limit caffeine intake
Lower my expectations
Celebrating the little wins (if Olive slept longer than 20 minutes that was a win!)
Listen to ‘Calm’ and ‘Headspace’ – two fantastic apps that I highly recommend
And, yoga! Yoga definitely saved me.
Some things I did to take the pressure off myself –
Started doing my weekly food shop online
Organised a cleaner to come to the house every three weeks
Put Bridie, my eldest daughter, into care an extra day
Scheduled in some weekly ‘me time’ – this is crucial.
Things I have learnt -
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable - this is a big one!
You can't control everything
Never judge other parents
Let go and ask for help. Sometimes you can’t do it all
Time will heal
When my anxiety was at its peak and I couldn’t sleep. Here are some tips that helped me overcome my insomnia as just like you a baby, you need to establish a good night time routine so your body and mind are ready for sleep -
Exercise during the day so your body is physically tired at night
Don’t sleep during the day, hold out if you can until the evening
Have a journal next to your bed. It’s a good release. Write down everything in your mind
Before bed, lay on the floor with your legs up the wall. It’s surprising how much it de-stresses you
Have a soothing bath or shower before bed to relax your body
Burn some lavender of an evening, or place a couple of drops on your pillow
If you watch the clock (like me) when you’re in bed, turn it away from you or turn it off so you can’t see it
Avoid taking your phone or electronic devices to bed. Stop looking at your phone or Ipad at least an hour before bedtime
If you have been tossing and turning for about 10-20mins. Get out of bed. Read something mindless like a phone book, then hop into bed and try again
Have a cup of hot water before bed
“There will be so many times when you feel like you’ve failed, but remember this, in the eyes, heart and mind of your child, you are a super Mum.”