Perinatal depression can occur at any point between becoming pregnant and up to one year after your child is born.
Antenatal depression is experienced during pregnancy, and postnatal depression develops between one month and up to one year after birth.
However, given that depression can start during pregnancy and continue after childbirth, the term perinatal depression is now used to cover the period from conception through to the end of a baby’s first year.
Here’s everything you need to know.
What is it?
While postnatal depression occurs during the first year after giving birth, “perinatal depression can occur at any point between becoming pregnant and up to one year after your child is born,” explains Cheryl Lythgoe, matron at Benenden Health (benenden.co.uk), although she says there is evidence that “parents can suffer for up to three years after birth”.
She says: “Feeling anxious or tearful in the first few days after birth is common. It’s often called the ‘baby blues’ and doesn’t tend to last more than a couple of weeks. If symptoms last longer – or start later – it could be postnatal depression.”
What are the symptoms?
Sadness & flat affect are not the only presentations of perinatal depression. -Anya Kleinman #GOLDLactation2022 #GOLDLearning #IAMGOLD #lactation #breastfeeding #breastmilk #HumanMilk #LactationConsultant #IBCLC #BreastfeedingSupport #postpartum #PMADS pic.twitter.com/qicDAlcZoo
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There are a wide range of symptoms of perinatal ill health, says Lythgoe, citing “anxiety, feeling low and not enjoying your pregnancy, a loss of self confidence, avoiding socialising, obsessive compulsive disorder and a lack of energy” as some of the most common.
She says mixed emotions are common for parents – because “pregnancy and birth are big milestones” – but “if you find the way you feel starts to impact your life every day, you could be suffering from perinatal mental illness”.
The charity Mind list feeling restless, agitated or irritable, guilty, worthless, empty, numb, tearful, unable to relate to other people, finding no pleasure in life, a sense of unreality, hopeless and despairing, hostile or indifferent to your partner, hostile or indifferent to your baby, and suicidal feelings, as symptoms too.
Are there any misconceptions around perinatal depression?
“It’s not just new mums who suffer,” Lythgoe suggests. “Dads can be affected by perinatal depression too, so it’s worth being aware and watching out for the signs.”
How can you seek help?
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Lythgoe’s top piece of advice for anyone who thinks they might be struggling with perinatal depression is to be “open and honest – not only with yourself, but also with your family and clinical care team, as looking after your mental wellbeing is just as important as looking after your physical health”.
Speak to your GP if you have any concerns, or you could get in contact with perinatal mental health support charity PANDAS (pandasfoundation.org.uk) either via their website or their free helpline on 0808 1961 776.
“During the perinatal period, using psychological therapies is a great way to support mental wellbeing,” says Lythgoe. Anyone with existing mental health concerns may be at a higher risk when they fall pregnant, and in this case she recommends pre-conception counselling and support.
Lythgoe advises: “As well as getting help from the professionals, there are a few things you can try to help ease your symptoms, including talking to your family and friends about your feelings, accepting help, enjoying some ‘me time’, exercising, eating healthily whilst not missing meals, and avoiding alcohol and drugs.”
Anyone with suicidal feelings can contact Samaritans 24-hours a day for free on 116 123.