Understanding Perinatal Depression as a Young Mother

Understanding Perinatal Depression as a Young Mother

Baby-Mamas_Favicon In honour of Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week held from 15th – 21st of November each year, this article was taken from the old Baby Mamas website (I had tons of resource pages on there!) and was very gratefully overlooked and written with the support of a clinical psychologist who specialised in helping mothers cope with Perinatal Depression – Jennifer Ericksen.


Jennifer is a clinical psychologist specialising in early childhood assessment, parent support and skills training, cognitive behaviour therapy, service planning, implementation and evaluation. Jennifer is also the manager of the Perinatal Mental Health and Training at the Parent Infant Research Institute and has been project manager in a number of their studies playing a key role in the BeyondBlue projects as well as providing training and expertise to the Perinatal Depression Initiative funded by the Department of Human Services and the Bupa Parent and Baby well being program. She has been published in a number of academic journals and texts, has presented at conferences and contributed to improving awareness in the media of the needs of mothers, fathers and infants. You can find out more about Jennie and the great projects she’s involved in here.


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What is Perinatal Depression?

After having a baby, around 80% of women develop what is known as “the baby blues”.  This feeling occurs in the days after childbirth and usually passes in a few days.   This is a normal experience which resolves by itself.  Perinatal depression (PND) and anxiety can occur during pregnancy or in the days, weeks or months following birth.  Around 14% of women and about 5% of fathers feel depressed in the year following childbirth.  For up to 40% of these women, their depressive symptoms begin in their pregnancy.  Anxiety is thought to be as common as depression, although fewer studies have been done on this.  Anxiety and depression often occur together.

Perinatal Depression Symptoms

If you can answer yes to any of these three questions, it may be worth considering whether you might be experiencing depression or/and anxiety:

  • During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
  • During the past month, have you often been bothered by little interest or pleasure in doing things?
  • Do you sometimes worry so much that it affects your day-to-day life?

People who have depression experience some or all of these things:

  • Lowered mood/sadness/irritability;
  • Loss of interest in things you usually enjoyed, friends, grooming, movies, music;
  • Changes in sleeping, not being able to go to sleep, waking in the night or sleeping too much;
  • Changes in appetite and weight, loss of appetite or eating too much, weight loss or weight gain;
  • Lack of motivation;
  • Changes in activity levels, slowed down or agitated ;
  • Difficultly thinking clearly or making decisions;
  • Feeling worthless, low self esteem and lack of confidence;
  • Feeling life  is not worth living

People may also experience anxiety symptoms, either alone or together:

  • Excessive worry that interferes with day to day functioning;
  • Panic attacks, increased heart rate, palpitations, trembling, flushes or fear of dying.

* Please visit the links listed below for more information on websites and resources that can provide you with helpful information in dealing with Perinatal Depression.


Who can get it?

A wide range of factors contribute to perinatal depression and anxiety, there is no one cause.  Research shows that some women and men are more vulnerable, however, it is not to say if you have all the risk factors you will be depressed.

Risk factors include:

  • Your own history of mental health problems (anxiety and depression), especially during pregnancy – including eating disorders;
  • Other members of your family having had mental health problems;
  • If you don’t have social and emotional support from family and/or partner and/or friends;
  • If you have experienced any of these things – past/present family violence and past/present alcohol or drug usage;
  • Recent major life events – difficult pregnancy/birth, loss of a loved one, housing difficulties/changes, financial difficulties, relationship difficulties.
  • Being a young mum and the combined risk factors that are more prominent in early parenting.


Baby Mamas and PND

Perinatal depression can be more common in Baby Mamas due to the fact that a lot of young mothers experience an unplanned and even unwanted pregnancy, have trouble maintaining social connections with their old friends, may experience single parenthood, may have experienced in the past or present family/domestic violence and may feel they get criticism and judgement for being a young mother.

Adapting to parenthood is a very big change to life before baby. It affects all relationships, including ones with your partner, your parents and your friends. You may feel judgement and criticism from strangers or even health professionals tending to you during your pregnancy and birth checkups/experiences.

Many Baby Mamas feel isolated and very different to their peers because they must suddenly be a parent responsible for a baby, whereas everyone else their age is out partying or worrying about homework and other self focussed indulgences.  Many young mothers feel like they are not socially accepted by their community.

Please note that when it comes to bonding with your baby, many mothers put a lot of pressure on themselves that if it isn’t instant, it won’t happen at all.  It doesn’t necessarily have to happen immediately or within the first few weeks of birth.  A mother’s relationship with her baby is ongoing and is constantly developing.  PND may put some extra stress on this and other relationships, but with the right support, it will be ok.


PND Treatment

Postnatal Depression & Anxiety Can Be Effectively Treated

The first step in recovering from depression and anxiety is to recognise it and ask for some help.  Speaking with your GP can ensure you get a thorough assessment and discussion about treatment options.  Support and understanding from friends and family and being able to talk about your feelings with other women experiencing similar problems can also be helpful.  We suggest you connect with other young mums who feel the same way you do and understand how you feel from their own firsthand experience of the challenges of being a Baby Mama!  In some cases, medications may be prescribed to improve depression, but it is important to remember that PND can and will improve with time and the appropriate treatment.  Speak to your doctor or health community nurse for advice on treating PND and visit our links section for more information on services dedicated to helping mothers recover from Postnatal Depression.

There is good scientific evidence for psychological treatment especially Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for depression. CBT treatment focuses on the connections between your thoughts, your feelings and behaviours. Your GP can refer you to a psychologist for CBT or you might be interested in some free treatment from the Parent Infant Research Institute (www.piri.org.au). PIRI’s research programs are free of charge and provide cutting edge interventions that not only help you, but may help others in the future.

Links & Resources

Parent Infant Research Institute – www.piri.org.au

Free online program to help Mums overcome Postnatal Depression – www.mummoodbooster.com and www.facebook.com/MumMoodBooster

Young people surviving pregnancy & parenting together – www.ivebeenthere.org.au

Post & Antenatal Depression Association – www.panda.org.au

Lifeline – 13 11 14 – 24hr Telephone Crisis Support

24 Hour Mental Health Line – 1800 011 511

Beyondblue Lifeline Support – 1300 224 636 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or Chat Online

Parent Line – 1300 30 1300


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