What causes postnatal depression?
There is debate about the causes of postnatal depression, but they are likely to include:
- hormone changes of pregnancy and childbirth (which affect some women more than others)
- lack of social support
- childhood abuse
- timing of the pregnancy
- previous experience of depression and anxiety
- low income
- low self-esteem
- relationship quality
- other life stressors
Importance of partner relationship
Recent research at Jean Hailes has found women with a partner who is caring, considerate and appreciative are less likely to have depression symptoms six months after the birth of their baby. But if they experience their partner to be very controlling and domineering then they are more likely to have symptoms at six months.
The relationship is also important to getting better. "A woman's experience of the strength of the relationship with her intimate partner is closely related to recovery from the symptoms of postnatal depression," says Dr Sonia McCallum, a Research Fellow at the Jean Hailes Women's Mental Health Program.
"Couples also need to recognise the importance of communicating with each other at this time. Often if they sit down and talk there is a lot they didn't realise. Having a baby is a huge adjustment for both of them", says Dr McCallum.
To improve maternal mental health in the postpartum (after birth) period, interventions need to address partner relationships and have to involve both partners. A lot of work in the past has focused on the mother, but this research highlights interventions need to focus on both parents.
Strategies for new parents
- Know that everyone finds it challenging to learn how to care well for a baby and manage a home with a baby – you are not alone
- Ask a maternal and child health nurse for practical advice, such as how to establish a feed-play-sleep routine of care for your baby
- Talk to your partner about how to share the increased workload at home – avoid criticising each other
- Share baby tasks – babies benefits from receiving care, e.g. bathing, nappy changing and settling from both parents
- Accept practical help from friends and family if they offer
- Identify what you miss from how life used to be and work out how you can begin to replace that activity or interest, maybe in a changed way
Strategies to support a new parent
- Be actively involved in caring for your baby
- Share increased household work in ways that feel fair
- Listen to each other's needs – be kind and encouraging
- Avoid criticism – it undermines confidence
- Help manage visitors keen to see you and meet your baby so you don't become overtired
- Support each other in having some time away from day-to-day responsibilities
For family and friends:
- Be upfront in offering help – most new parents find it difficult to ask for help with practical tasks
- Offer practical support e.g. pick up an older child from childcare, buy groceries, prepare a meal, hang out washing
- Invite them to tell you how they are finding things and help to work out solutions to difficulties
- Help them find ways to make new friends at the same life stage
- Give lots of praise and encouragement
If you would like to know more about postnatal depression visit the Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA).
This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at March 2014.