Perinatal Depression

What does Perinatal mean?

Perinatal is the term used to describe the time between conception and the first 12 months after giving birth. It includes both the antenatal period –  the time during pregnancy and the postnatal period – the first 12 months after birth.

What is Perinatal Depression?

Perinatal Depression may be referred to as postnatal depression, antenatal depression, postpartum depression or shortened to PND.

Perinatal depression is depression experienced anytime during pregnancy and/or the first year after a baby’s birth. Perinatal Depression and anxiety has the same symptoms as depression and anxiety experienced at any other time of life. Both women and men can experience perinatal depression. Perinatal Depression is a real and debilitating illness that can have serious, long term effects on a mother, her children, the couple and family.

Symptoms will vary from person to person but may include any combination of the following, that persist for more than 14 days:

  •  Panic attacks • Persistent worry, often focused on fears for the health of baby • The development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours • Increased sensitivity to noise or touch • Changes in appetite: over or under eating • Sleep problems not linked to the baby’s needs • Extreme exhaustion:  feeling physically or emotionally overwhelmed and unable to cope with household chores and looking after a baby. • Memory problems or loss of concentration • Loss of confidence and self-esteem • Persistent sadness or crying • Withdrawal from friends and family • Fear of being alone with baby • Thoughts of harm to yourself or baby • Irritability and/or anger • Increased alcohol or drug use • Loss of interest in sex or previously enjoyed activities • Thoughts of death or suicide.


If you are having immediate thoughts of suicide, hurting yourself or you baby please call 000, or go to the emergency department of you closest hospital.

You can also call the suicide call back service 24 hours a day seven days a week on 1300 659 467

Could I have Perinatal Depression?

Learning you are expecting a baby is a life-changing event and it is normal to have some concerns about pregnancy and birth. It is also common for women to experience the ‘baby blues’ after birth, often a new mother will feel teary, anxious or moody as she adjusts to motherhood. However, these feelings usually only last a few days and do not significantly impact a woman’s day to day life, this is not considered perinatal depression.

If you are concerned enough to be reading this information, you or your loved one may be at risk of perinatal depression and should talk to with a doctor. It is important to recognize the early signs of perinatal depression and seek help. You can complete this online checklist 

In Australia, around 1 in every 10 expectant mothers will experience antenatal (during pregnancy) depression and 1 in 7 new mothers may be affected by postnatal (first 12 months after birth) depression. Every Australian woman should be screened for perinatal depression during pregnancy and after giving birth.

You may be at a higher risk of perinatal depression if you have:

  • past or present mental health problems • previous or current abuse (sexual, physical or psychological) • previous or current drug and/or alcohol abuse • recent life stress (e.g. financial worries, relationship problems, IVF, multiple birth) • a lack of practical or emotional support • poor attachment with your own mother.

Additional factors thought to contribute to perinatal depression include:

• severe ‘baby blues’ • complications during delivery • multiple births • problems with the baby’s health • difficulty breastfeeding • difficult family relationships • single parenthood • an unsettled baby • unrealistic expectations about motherhood

What help is available?

The good news is you are not alone, and you do not need to go through this by yourself. This will end and you will come to feel the joy of parenthood. One of the most important steps in recovery is seeking help early. Often the first step is talking with your GP. You may also talk with your obstetrician, midwife or Child and Family Health Nurse to find the best treatment approach for you. Other health professionals you may be referred to include a psychologist, psychiatrist, counsellor, mental health nurse or social worker.

Your GP can develop a mental health care plan for you which will allow you to claim a rebate from Medicare for psychological assessment and therapy. You are entitled to a maximum of 10 individual and ten group sessions per the calendar year.

Some women also find it helpful to join a support group specifically designed for mums experiencing perinatal depression, by meeting other parents experiencing similar feelings to yourself you may feel less alone. Brisbane mothers can click here to find your closest group.

The White Cloud Foundation has developed and piloted the White Cloud Mums program at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. The program aims to provide practical and emotional support to women experiencing perinatal depression. You can read more about White Cloud Mums here.

To talk with someone now about getting help please call the National Perinatal and Anxiety Helpline:

1300 726 306

expectant mothers