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Pregnancy, early parenthood and mental health

When pregnant, it is normal for a woman to experience a degree of anxiety and ‘ups and downs’. Some women however will develop more pronounced anxiety or lowered mood which will impact their daily life and functioning. When this occurs during pregnancy, it is known as antenatal anxiety or antenatal depression.

(PANDA (Perinatal Anxieety and Depression Australia), 2017).

What increases the risk of a mental health condition?

Mental health conditions don’t have one definite cause, and are a likely combination of a number of factors. These include:

  • personal history of mental health issues, or an existing mental health issue
  • personal experience of current or past abuse
  • stressful events (such as relationship breakdown)
  • lack of available support
  • lack of support from a partner
  • alcohol or drug use

Signs and symptoms of worsening mental health

When working with an expectant or new mother, be aware of the signs that may indicate deteriorating mental health. These include:

  • persistent worries and fears
  • physical signs, such as panic attacks
  • the development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours
  • abrupt mood swings
  • feeling constantly, sad, low, or crying for no reason
  • feeling easily annoyed or irritated
  • having thoughts about death, or self-harm

(PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia), 2017)

If there are worries about an expectant or new mother

If there are worries about an expectant or new mother’s mental health, link them with professional supports as soon as possible. Have open conversations with the mother, her partner and other family supports. Give the mother permission to be honest about how she is feeling.  Encourage her to ask for others help and let her know you are one of those people who can help.

Further reading

These two resources from Beyond Blue can be shared with women who are pregnant, or parenting a new baby, and their families:

Booklet – Emotional health and wellbeing: A guide for pregnant women, new mums and other carers

Pamphlet – Understanding perinatal depression and anxiety

Pregnancy, breastfeeding and medications

There are some risks associated with a woman taking medications to treat mental health issues while pregnant or breastfeeding. Sometimes these risks are outweighed by the overall benefit. When working with a woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding while taking medication, encourage her to discuss this with her doctor.

It is not Child Safety’s role to advise a parent to alter their use of medication. This is done by a qualified health professional in consultation with the parent. Child Safety’s role is to encourage and support a parent to meet with a health professional and other support services.

Talk with the pregnant woman to understand how she and health professionals are managing her treatment and support during the pregnancy or while she is breastfeeding and discuss any potential impacts this might have. If there is a plan to change her medications or change her treatment in other ways, explore how to can support and help her manage this change and the ways it might impact her parenting. 

Further reading

Explore the practice kit Alcohol and other drugs for more information about drug use and breastfeeding.

Tip

When working with a woman with known mental health issues or a mental illness, use this COPMI resource, which helps to think about managing mental health during pregnancy and early parenthood - The Best for Me and My Baby 

(COPMI – Children of Parents with a Mental Illness)

Postnatal psychosis

Postnatal psychosis is a relatively rare, but serious illness. It can put both the mother’s and the baby’s life at risk. Some of the symptoms of postnatal psychosis include:

  • feeling agitated – unable to relax or stop moving
  • high mood with loss of touch of reality (mania)
  • wanting to die
  • thoughts of hurting herself and/or thoughts of harming the baby
  • extreme sudden mood swings, from very high to very low
  • aggressive or violent behaviour (PANDA, 2017)

Time sensitive

Seek urgent medical attention if it becomes apparent that a mother may have postnatal psychosis.

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.’

(PANDA, 2017)

For a comprehensive list of symptoms and further information on postnatal psychosis, refer to the PANDA website.

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