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Postpartum Mental Health 

While welcoming a new life into the world can be a time of absolute joy, the postnatal period can also bring a range of unexpected challenges for parents, particularly when it comes to mental health. 

Postnatal Depression 

Postnatal depression (PND) affects up to 1 in 5 mums, and 1 in 10 dads in the first year of their baby’s life. Unlike the transient and milder ‘baby blues,’ PND symptoms persist for longer than two weeks and significantly impact day-to-day functioning. PND usually does not resolve without additional intervention and support. Symptoms can include:

  • feelings of hopelessness,
  • worthlessness,
  • significant low mood 
  • loss of interest in others (including your new baby)
  • significant difficulty managing daily activities, 
  • sleep disturbances (irrespective of your newborn’s sleep schedule), 
  • changes in appetite,
  • low mood, and
  • thoughts of harming oneself or the baby.

Differentiating PND from ‘Baby Blues’

Baby blues typically occur in the first week or two after childbirth and are characterised by feelings of tearfulness, difficulty sleeping, and heightened emotions. They tend to have less of an impact on your ability to manage day-to-day tasks. These symptoms are often attributed to hormonal changes following pregnancy and birth, and they tend to resolve on their own without lasting consequences.

Postnatal Anxiety and Postpartum Psychosis

In addition to PND, postnatal anxiety is another common mental health concern. It is characterised by strong feelings of worry or fear that are difficult to control (e.g., worrying excessively about your new baby, feeling scared of being alone), a sense of dread and physiological symptoms of anxiety (e.g., increased heart rate).

On the more severe end of the spectrum is postpartum psychosis, a rare but serious condition where mothers can lose touch with reality. Symptoms can include confusion, significant agitation, restlessness, hallucinations (hearing/seeing things that are not there) and/or delusions (rigid and untrue beliefs that are likely to be distressing).  Postpartum psychosis can come on quickly and is often highly distressing for mum and her loved ones. Postpartum psychosis requires immediate psychiatric assessment and support. 

Risk factors

There are various risk factors that can increase a mother’s chance of developing postnatal mental health issues, including:

  • previous pregnancy loss, 
  • a baby who is difficult to settle, 
  • a history of depression or mental health struggles,
  • limited social support, 
  • a history of abuse, and
  • younger age (under 25yo).

How Psychology Can Help:

Navigating postnatal mental health is a complex journey that requires understanding, compassion, and proactive support. Evidence-based psychological therapy can help support individuals experiencing postnatal mental health struggles. Therapeutic interventions such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can provide valuable tools for coping, understanding, and navigating the complexities of postnatal mental health. Psychologists will work collaboratively with you to find the best approach that works for you and empower you with new skills to boost your confidence in parenting, increase emotional wellbeing and improve your support systems to reclaim joy in your journey through parenthood.

Other supports:


Postnatal depression | healthdirect

Depression-during-pregnancy.pdf (blackdoginstitute.org.au)

Perinatal depression: data from the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey, Summary – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (aihw.gov.au)

How common are mental health issues in the perinatal period? (panda.org.au)


Emma Hunt is a Clinical  Psychologist at NLC Psychology and is currently consulting on Wednesdays and Saturdays at Malvern. Emma has experience working with individuals whose lives have been impacted by a variety of psychological difficulties, including depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders (including borderline personality disorder), disordered eating, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, sleep disorders, and long COVID. In particular, she has a special interest in working with children, young people, and pre/post natal mums and their mental health.

For more information on how to start seeing a Psychologist at NLC Psychology, please call 08 8373 5655.

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