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From the beyondblue fact sheet 22 – Postnatal Depression

Adjusting to life as a mother can be difficult. In fact, for many women, having a baby is the most significant life-changing event they will ever experience. Adjusting to this major life change, as well as coping with the day-to-day demands of a new baby, can make some women more likely to experience depression at this time, particularly if they’ve experienced depression in the past.



Postnatal depression (PND) affects almost 16 per cent of new mothers in Australia. As with depression, PND is common. Depression affects one in five females and one in eight males.
Around one million Australian adults and 160,000 young people live with depression each year.


Like depression which occurs at any other time, postnatal depression doesn’t have one definite cause – but it’s likely to result from a combination of factors including:

  • a past history of depression and/or anxiety
  • a stressful pregnancy
  • depression during the current pregnancy
  • a family history of mental disorders
  • experiencing severe ‘baby blues’
  • a prolonged labour and/or delivery complications
  • problems with the baby’s health
  • difficulty breastfeeding
  • a lack of practical, financial and/or emotional support
  • past history of abuse
  • difficulties in close relationships
  • sleep deprivation
  • being a single parent
  • having an unsettled baby (e.g. difficulties with feeding and sleeping)
  • having unrealistic expectations about motherhood
  • moving house
  • making work adjustments (e.g. stopping or re-starting work).


Postnatal depression has the same signs and symptoms as depression. Women with PND can experience a prolonged period of low mood, reduced interest in activities, tiredness and
disturbance of sleep and appetite and negative thoughts and feelings. To find out about the general symptoms of depression, go to the series of depression checklists at www.beyondblue.org.au.

The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (see below) is a set of questions designed to see if a new mother may have depression. The answers will not provide a diagnosis – for that
you need to see a doctor or other health professional. The answers will tell you however, if you or someone you know, has symptoms that are common in women with PND.
If you have concerns that you or someone you know has PND, please consult a doctor.


There is a range of effective treatments for managing PND. Psychological treatment Psychological treatment, which is often referred to as ‘talking
therapy’ has generally been found to be the most effective way of treating postnatal depression. Psychological treatment can help by:

  • changing negative thoughts and feelings
  • encouraging involvement in activities
  • speeding recovery
  • preventing depression from getting serious again.


Medication can play an important role in helping people with depression manage from day to day. Some people may worry about how antidepressants will affect a baby who is breastfed. However, remaining on medication can be important in order to avoid significant depression which can have a negative impact for both mother and baby.

If the mother is breastfeeding, specific types of medications are preferred. While a number of factors will influence the choice of antidepressant, SSRIs – Sertraline, Citalopram and Fluvoxamine – have been found to be least likely to cause any harm to infants.

The decision to take medication is up to the individual and should be made in consultation with a doctor, after considering the risks and benefits to both the mother and infant. For more details visit www.beyondblue.org.au or call the beyondblue info line on 1300 22 4636 (local call).

(Further reading: Buist, A. ‘Guidelines for the Use of SSRI’s in pregnant Women’, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vol. 7, No. 4, Summer 2005, pp.18-20).


  • Seek help and treatment from a doctor or other qualified health professional.
  • Seek friendships with other women, including other mums who have postnatal depression.
  • Organise childcare or ask friends or family to look after the child/ren occasionally to allow you to have time to yourself.
  • Make sure you take time to do the things you enjoy like reading a book, listening to music or having a bath.
  • Spend some time with your partner to help nurture the relationship.
  • Develop a support system of friends, family and professionals and accept help.
  • Restrict visitors when feeling unwell, overwhelmed or tired.
  • Take things one step at a time.
  • Don’t bottle up feelings – discuss them with friends, family and your partner.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Practise deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques.
  • Try to establish good sleeping patterns.
  • Learn about postnatal depression.
  • Call a postnatal depression support service or mental health crisis line if things are getting tough and other help is not available.


  • Remember that postnatal depression is treatable.
  • Encourage the woman to see a health professional. Offer to go along to the session with her.
  • Learn about postnatal depression.
  • Spend time listening, without feeling the need to offer solutions.
  • Offer to spend time looking after the baby or older children or discuss other childcare options so the mum can have time to herself.
  • Offer to help with housework like cooking and cleaning.
  • Let the woman know how well she is doing when she makes small gains.
  • Encourage the woman to use some self-help strategies.
  • Look after yourself. Seek support for your own needs by joining a support group, keeping in touch with your family doctor and taking time out. By keeping yourself physically
    and mentally healthy, you will be better equipped to support the person with the illness.
  • Expect that a person with postnatal depression can be moody, irritable, volatile, teary and withdrawn. Try not to take what they say as a personal attack.
  • Contact a doctor or hospital, if the woman becomes a threat to herself or others.


A doctor who is a General Practitioner (GP) is a good first step. In some cases, the person may be referred to a mental health specialist like a psychiatrist or psychologist.
For a list of GPs with expertise in treating depression and related disorders visit the beyondblue website www.beyondblue.org.au and click on Find a Doctor or call the beyondblue info line on 1300 22 4636 (local call).

Psychiatrists are doctors who specialise in mental health. They can make medical and psychological assessments, conduct medical tests and prescribe medication. Some psychiatrists use psychological treatments.

Psychologists, Mental Health Nurses, Social Workers and Occupational Therapists specialise in providing nonmedical (psychological) treatment for depression and related
disorders. A rebate can now be claimed through Medicare for psychological treatments when your GP, psychiatrist or paediatrician refers you to a registered psychologist, mental
health nurse, social worker or occupational therapist. This rebate can be claimed for part of the cost for up to 12 individual (18 in exceptional circumstances) and 12 group sessions in
a calendar year. For more details ask your referring medical practitioner. For a list of mental health professionals providing treatment for which you can claim a Medicare rebate go to:

  • Clinical Psychologists: www.beyondblue.org.au under Find a Psychologist
  • Psychologists: www.psychology.org.au under Find a Psychologist
  • Mental Health Social Workers: www.aasw.asn.au under Find a Mental Health Worker
  • Mental Health Occupation Therapists: www.ausot.com.au under Find a Mental Health OT

From the beyondblue fact sheet 22 – Postnatal Depression

Post and Antenatal Depression Association Inc (PaNDa)

1300 726 306 (Monday – Friday 9.30am to 4.30pm EST)


Provides information for women and their families affected by antenatal and postnatal mood disorders about the causes and symptoms of these disorders, as well as types of treatments
and support services available.

To find out more about the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety, available treatments and where to get help, visit the beyondblue website at www.beyondblue.org.au or call the info line on 1300 22 4636.

Featured Tab and Post Image: Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Born in Sydney in 1975, Angus grew up in the northern suburbs of Sydney and later in the Western Suburbs of Sydney. Over the years he has been a check out operator, charity collection agent for the Muscualr Dystrophy Association, Apple Repair Technician and is a former Director and all rounder type computer and network technician of Little Computer People. He is married to Michelle, who he met on-line back in the good old days of the internet when it was considered a big no-no to have physically met someone you chat to on-line for fear of harm. He has lived in Melbourne for two years, then moved back to Sydney for eleven years, but is once again back in Melbourne. It is nicer than Sydney for artistic purposes and coolness factor. As of now he lives in Pascoe Vale, fixes computers and networks, takes photos of all sorts of things as a hobby and builds lego to help deal with his depression. Capril means even more to him now.

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