Firstly, let’s get the medical jargon out of the way: Perinatal means the time immediately before and after childbirth, and can relate to a number of weeks or months. This time is obvious a fairly intense part of anyone’s life as it’s a point of massive change, impacting your health, lifestyle and mental wellbeing in a huge way.
Baby showers and post-birth grams may lead you to believe that the perinatal period is one of extreme joy, as new mums and dads are bursting at the seams with love for their new addition to the family. However, it is extremely common for new parents to experience serious and devastating depression and anxiety during this time.
In fact, one in five expectant or new mothers and one in ten expecting or new fathers will experience perinatal anxiety or depression.
That means in Australia alone, around 100,000 families will be affected by this illness every single year. When perinatal anxiety and/or depression is left untreated, it can have a heartbreaking impact on parents, partners and babies - with scary side effects including self-harm and even suicide.
But why does Perinatal anxiety and depression get left untreated? Well, because it’s strangely a taboo subject that many new mums and dads are afraid to talk about, due to shame and fear of their own feelings.
That’s why, during PANDA week, we should strive to have those conversations and learn about what the warning signs for this illness so we can protect loved ones and ourselves.
However, perinatal anxiety and depression can be quite difficult to recognise for a whole range of reasons - mainly due to symptoms often being dismissed as ‘normal’ elements of pregnancy and early parenthood. However the main symptoms tend to be:
- Feeling sad, low, or crying for no obvious reason
- Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health or wellbeing of your baby
- Being nervous, ‘on edge’, or panicky
- Being easily annoyed or irritated
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Difficulties sleeping, even when your baby is sleeping
- Abrupt mood swings
- Feeling constantly tired and lacking energy
- Physical symptoms like nausea, vomiting, cold sweats, lack of appetite
- Having little or no interest in the things that normally bring you joy
- Fear of being alone or with others
- Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Panic attacks (racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
- Developing obsessive or compulsive behaviours
- Thoughts of death, suicide or bringing harm to yourself or your baby