Managing antenatal and postnatal depression and anxiety

August 4, 2014

Managing Antenatal and Postnatal Depression and Anxiety

If you have been experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy or following the birth of your baby, you are not alone. Approximately 15-20% of women experience depressed mood and/or anxiety in the perinatal period. Research suggests that both medication and psychological therapy can greatly improve mood and stress and also suggests that the earlier you receive treatment and support, the easier it will be to get things back on track.

The most effective forms of psychological therapy for women in the perinatal period are cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). These two types of therapy aim to teach a number of different strategies to improve mood and reduce anxiety and may include activity scheduling, problem solving, thought challenging, improving mindfulness, relaxation, sleep hygiene, communication training and challenging unhelpful beliefs about yourself (self-esteem related).

Some initial recommendations for better managing your mood and anxiety if pregnant or are a parent to a young infant

  • Maximise sleep where possible. Both pregnancy and being a parent to an infant can significantly impact on sleep quality and quantity. Sleep directly impacts on both mood and anxiety management. Maximise number of hours of sleep where possible including napping, going to bed early, getting your partner to assist with night feeds.
  • Exercise: Research has clearly substantiated the benefit of exercise for mood and anxiety. Engage in at least 30 minutes of exercise regularly with that exercise matching where you are at both physically and in your energy. A walk is a great start!
  • Seek Social Support: While you might feel too tired or low to socialise and engage with others it is important that you seek support wherever possible. This might be through family, friendships, mother’s group and community health staff and groups.
  • Communicate with your partner: Relationship difficulties are more common in the perinatal period. Try to communicate with your partner about where things are at for you and to express any concerns that you might have. Remember that many are defensive to criticism so communicate gently and approach it as positively as possible. It might not change behaviour or outcomes but will be good for them to know where you are at and what you need.
  • Challenge negative and irrational thoughts: we all have a tendency to consider situations with negativity and/or irrationality. Make efforts to keep your thoughts in perspective and as functional as possible.
  • Mindfulness: Rather than focusing your attention and thoughts on past or future events or concerns, try to engage in the moment (here and now). You can do this by focusing on your breath, by noticing something in your environment or in being present during your morning or afternoon routine.
  • See professional assistance: Perinatal depression and anxiety often requires professional support and treatment. If you are really finding it difficult to manage your mood and/or anxiety, speak to your doctor or specialist.