By Dr. Harvey Karp

Having a baby is a big emotional event. But perinatal depression and anxiety go beyond simple baby blues or worries—they’re serious, far reaching issues that demand our attention.

PNDA affects an estimated one in five mothers and one in 10 fathers/partners in Australia, and it can have serious consequences.

Perinatal mood disorders affect a mother’s ability to bond with her baby, breastfeed, and can lead to future struggles with mental health and tragically, death by suicide.

It’s also estimated that between its health, wellbeing, and economic impact, PNDA costs the country nearly $900 million a year.

Needless to say, this isn’t a problem parents need to stick out or that society can afford to ignore.

But what causes PNDA and how can parents begin to address it?

We used to think that the key trigger for PNDA was a hormonal shift. However, many women have those shifts and don’t develop depression, and many parents (for example dads and adoptive mums) don’t have those hormonal changes, yet they do develop perinatal depression.

Perinatal mood disorders affect a mother’s ability to bond with her baby, breastfeed and more serious issues.

Some parents who suffer with postpartum depression are predisposed by a history of depression or anxiety. And life stresses (for example financial stress or prior trauma) all raise the risk.

Many of these factors are very difficult to change. But parents have more control over the three biggest triggers of PNDA.

Research has told us over and over that the key triggers for PNDA are:

  1. exhaustion
  2. persistent crying, and
  3. feeling unsupported (it’s all on my shoulders!) or incompetent (I’m a bad mum; I don’t know what I’m doing!)

And for postpartum anxiety, an additional trigger is the fear that your baby will roll to an unsafe sleeping position.

Getting help for PNDA starts with simply recognizing that you are a good mum and you deserve to have help and that this isn’t a problem that you need to just need to muddle through.

Modern parents have it harder than generations past. Today, having a nanny may seem like a luxury but remember, historically, all mums had five helpers between extended family, neighbours, and older siblings! Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Persistent crying is a key trigger for PND.

That means leaning on your partner, family, or whoever else offers to lend a hand but it also includes seeking professional help.

If you have symptoms of PND or PPA talk to your doctor. Together you can figure out what type of treatment might be right for you.

And since exhaustion is a huge trigger, getting help with sleep can go a long way to alleviate depression—learning the 5 S’s for calming fussy babies can help calm crying, boost sleep and make you feel more confident as a parent.

For mums with babies still in the first two or three months of life, SNOO Smart Sleeper can also be a real lifeline. SNOO is a responsive bed that can quickly add 1-2 hours to a baby’s sleep, calm crying, reduce anxiety by assuring that the baby stays sleeping on the back, improve breastfeeding outcomes, and act as a virtual caregiver.

Like extended family, SNOO offers an extra pair of hands to help new mothers get some much-needed respite. If you’re suffering with PND or PPA, please know that you’re not alone and help is available.

And if you’re concerned about a loved one’s mental health, don’t wait for them to ask before you reach out. Go over to hold the baby so Mum can rest, bring a meal so she doesn’t have to worry about cooking, or babysit the older kids so she gets a break. Listen to her and encourage her to seek professional help if she’s experiencing symptoms of PPA or PND.

Reassure her that she’s not alone and that she’s a good mother. PNDA is a far-reaching crisis and much like parenting itself, it may take a village to ensure that new parents get the support they need to thrive in the face of perinatal depression and anxiety.