pregnancy mental health, pregnant woman being supported by male partner and looking at baby booties

How to Manage Mental Wellbeing During Pregnancy

Dealing with Antenatal Anxiety and Postpartum Depression

Your mental health and wellbeing are just as important as your physical health during pregnancy and following childbirth.

While welcoming a new family member is an exciting endeavour, there’s no doubt preparing to have a baby and becoming a new parent can also be a challenging time.

It’s a period of great change and, for some people, brings with it an increased likelihood of developing a mental health condition.

In fact, 1 in 5 new mums and 1 in 10 new dads experience perinatal depression and anxiety, or around 100,000 Australian parents, each year.

Raising awareness, creating understanding and providing education and support is the focus of National Perinatal Mental Health Week to be marked from November 6 to 12.

What is Perinatal Mental Health

Perinatal mental health looks at the emotional and psychological wellbeing of a woman, her partner and their child from conception until 12 to 24 months after birth.

Perinatal mental illness refers to any mental health condition affecting the mood, behaviour, wellbeing and/or daily function of an expecting or new parent.

While each person may experience symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression differently, the way it affects you will depend on factors such as your own physical, emotional and mental make-up and the presence of any other stressful situations.

If you have a previous mental health condition, feel that you don’t have enough support, have problems with drugs or alcohol or abusive relationships, then the risk of developing anxiety and depression during pregnancy is higher.

It’s important to manage these conditions to reduce the impact on yourself, your partner and your child.

Maternal stress, anxiety and depression can result in events such as preterm birth and low birthweight as well as create long term developmental challenges for your child.

Antenatal and Postnatal Depression and Anxiety

Having a baby is a life changing event so it’s natural to be worried about what those changes may bring. However, some parents may have greater difficulty adjusting to the physical, emotional and psychological changes of pregnancy and a new baby.

Both partners can experience anxiety and depression during pregnancy (the antenatal period) as well as after the birth (the postnatal period).

Symptoms of anxiety and depression can be mild, moderate or severe and begin during the pregnancy or start suddenly after birth and continue months after.

It’s considered normal to:

  • Antenatal – have feelings of anxiety and uncertainty about your pregnancy, the health of your unborn baby and the birth itself.
  • Postnatal – feel teary, anxious or irritable in the weeks after having your baby as your hormones adjust.

However, if you experience changes that affect your ability to function daily with strong mental or emotional turmoil, you may need support for perinatal anxiety and depression.

Some of the symptoms of anxiety may include feeling stressed and panicky, abrupt mood swings, excessive fears about life with your baby, racing thoughts and feeling isolated, scared and lonely.

You may notice that you withdraw from loved ones, avoid people or places that you believe may trigger anxiety and have increased arguments with friends and family.

Symptoms of depression can include feeling sad, frequent crying, abrupt mood swings, feeling disconnected from family and friends, or having difficulty focussing.

You may have little or no interest in activities that would usually bring you joy and may have urges to self-harm.

The symptoms and severity vary for each person.

Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) has a checklist available to help determine whether you may need to seek help.


Managing change: A guide for pregnancy and new parenthood from PANDA 4:06


Tips to Manage Mental Wellbeing During Pregnancy

Getting enough rest, exercising, eating healthy meals and reducing stress can help you maintain your mental wellbeing during pregnancy.

Here are some other ways to help manage your mental health while pregnant:

  • Talk about your feelings to a friend, family member, doctor or midwife
  • Try calming breathing exercises if you feel overwhelmed
  • Do gentle physical activity if you can, such as yoga or Pilates – it can improve your mood and help you sleep
  • Eat a healthy diet with regular meals
  • Try to attend antenatal classes to meet other pregnant people
  • Spend time with people who make you feel relaxed and good about yourself
  • Avoid using drugs or alcohol to deal with stress and quit smoking
  • Don’t expect too much of yourself – be realistic about what you can do; rest when you need to
  • Try not to make major life changes, like moving houses or changing jobs during your pregnancy
  • Accept help if it’s offered and ask for help if you need it

If you are mentally healthy you will be better able to manage the challenges of your pregnancy and find it easier to adapt to life with a new baby.

When Is It Time to Get Help?

During pregnancy and again in the postnatal period, most women in Australia are screened for signs of depression.

However, women with depression and anxiety may not realise they have it, especially if they have never experienced symptoms before.

It’s time to seek some advice and support if:

  • You’ve felt consistently unwell, sad or worried for longer than 2 weeks
  • Negative thoughts and feelings are starting to affect your ability to function in your day-to-day life
  • You’re showing signs of depression, such as losing interest, or feeling hopeless or unable to cope
  • You feel anxious or worried most of the time

Get Mental Health Support

If you’re struggling with life as a new parent or anxious about the impending birth of your baby, support is available.

Whether you have obvious symptoms of anxiety or depression or just feel that you’re not coping well or don’t feel like yourself, talking to someone about your concerns can be a first step to getting the support you need to manage and feel better.

Talk to your partner, a trusted friend or family member if you are comfortable to do so or reach out to health professionals such as your GP or midwife.

Psychological counselling can also be helpful to process feelings and manage negative thoughts as well as treat anxiety and depression.

Psychological Health Care offers counselling services to help manage pregnancy and postpartum depression and anxiety. Talk to our team today to find out more or book an appointment.