Protecting The Mental Health of New Parents

Protecting The Mental Health of New Parents

Protecting The Mental Health of New Parents

In Australia 10-13% of women will experience depression and/or anxiety during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth. A woman's mental health at this time can be affected by many things including the support and understanding given by a partner, family and friends; whether depression or anxiety has been experienced previously; how easy or difficult it is to adapt to change; what else is happening at this time such as moving, changing jobs, experiencing a loss of some kind, as well as ease of conception, pregnancy, birth and feeding.

While rates of depression and anxiety are much lower among men, many men can feel worried, in particular about the responsibilities for their family's financial security. Some men deal with worries by using alcohol and up to one in four can drink too much.

There is no doubt that the birth of a baby is a major life change. While many parents expect this time to be of great happiness, it can also be accompanied by mixed feelings, with many parents feeling under-equipped to care for, and manage a household with, a new baby.

The good news is that there are lots of things that can be done to support new parents during this changing time in their lives.

In the first few months after having a new baby it can be helpful to seek information and support from trusted and reliable sources. Sharing experiences following the birth of a baby, and hearing the experiences of other parents going through a similar journey, can help parents adjust. Programs such as the evidence-based What Were We Thinking program developed by the Jean Hailes Research Unit (a partnership between Monash University and Jean Hailes for Women's Health) teach new parents practical skills to help manage crying and settling of their babies, as well as helpful ways to work out who does what in their household.

The What Were We Thinking blog, based on the What Were We Thinking program, follows the experiences of new and expectant parents around Australia from the time of late pregnancy through the first six months with a baby.

Mums and dads share the highs and the lows of their journeys with honesty, and a touch of humour. Bloggers discuss expectations before and after their baby is born, changing relationships, dealing with -the fog' and feelings of doubt in the early weeks, reaching milestones, going on holidays, issues with settling, sickness and sharing the load, finding ways to have time out, as well as juggling work and home. Posts to the blog are moderated by, and commented on, by health professionals and other experts in the field.

Other things new parents find helpful include:
Knowing that everyone finds it challenging to learn how to care well for a baby and manage your home – you are not alone
Asking a maternal and child health nurse for practical advice
Talking to your partner about how to share the increased workload at home – avoid criticising each other
Sharing baby tasks – babies benefit from receiving care, e.g. bathing, nappy changing and settling from both parents
Accepting practical help from friends and family if they offer
Identifying 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

What others can do to help a new parent
For partners:
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

Experiencing anxiety or depression around the time of pregnancy and after having a baby is relatively common, and with appropriate help, women recover. Supportive relationships are vital to protect the mental health of new parents.

Read more from the What Were We Thinking bloggers and experts at

For information on postnatal depression go to

The What Were We Thinking blog was developed with funding from the Australian Government.

Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women's Health
1800 JEAN HAILES (532 642)

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