Baby blues or postnatal depression? How to help yourself and your partner

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun13,2024
Key Points
  • Postnatal depression lasts longer than ‘baby blues’ and presents with more severe symptoms.
  • Up to 1 in 5 new mums and 1 in 10 new dads are affected by postnatal depression.
  • Treatment can involve psychological therapy or antidepressant medication, and a supportive environment can help new parents access the help they need to recover.
It is estimated that four out of five new mothers experience ‘baby blues’ in the first days after birth.
These are unpleasant feelings, usually due to hormonal changes and include feeling anxious, tearful, and having difficulty sleeping, but they usually pass quickly without the need for any medical treatment.
When symptoms are persistent or interfere with a parent’s ability to function normally for themselves and their newborn baby, they may be experiencing postnatal depression.
“Depression can occur during the pregnancy, which is the antenatal period, or postnatally, after the birth of the baby,” Julie Borninkhof says, a clinical psychologist and the CEO of .
Symptoms may include mood deterioration, inability to attend to information, and social isolation.
Sleep disruptions are also common, Ms Borninkhof says.

“Either oversleeping or not sleeping enough, the inability to have food and water intake as normal, are all disrupted as you would expect in depression at any point in one’s life.”

Australia Explained - Postnatal Depression

People who have experienced depression before are more likely to develop perinatal depression, Ms Borninkhof explains. Presenting with both anxiety and depression together is also common. Credit: SDI Productions/Getty Images

Ms Borninkhof outlines some of the risk factors for perinatal depression.

“We know that people who have a familial history may have an increased risk. And people who have experienced significant trauma during their life are also likely to experience depression or anxiety at this time.”
Every pregnancy is unique, and similarly, each case of perinatal depression is different.
For Sarah Bari, the mother of three-year-old Azai, the pregnancy journey was filled with excitement and a sense of readiness.
She recalls “crying 60 to 70% of the day for no reason” and experiencing intense fear, among other symptoms that lasted for several weeks, beyond the temporary baby blues.
“I was actually dreading doing the basic things for my son, I was dreading trying to breastfeed, stay up for him, even playing with him […] I was fearful all the time. I pretty much understood that this can’t be normal for this long.”
Sarah was born in Bangladesh and has lived in Australia for 20 years. She reflects on her experience surrounding mental health support.

“It’s not as common in Bangladesh for people to just go and say, ‘I’ve got perinatal depression, I need help.’. But mine was a very different case, my parents are quite progressive, and my father was the one who told me ‘you need to go see professional help’.”

Australia Explained - Postnatal Depression

Regardless of ethnicity or culture, reaching out for help during perinatal depression can be hard for some people. Credit: FatCamera/Getty Images

Sarah believes there is still a stigma around perinatal depression in Australia.

“It’s a very taboo topic still… people don’t know how to react to that.”
“I’ve spoken to local Australians and colleagues about it. One in four wouldn’t know how to deal with a conversation like that. So, there’s definitely a stigma, but it’s wider than cultural I think.”
One of the most common myths regarding perinatal depression is that it only affects women, Jakqui Barnfield says.
She is the Executive Director of Service Delivery at , a crisis support service that also provides counselling specifically for men through .

“I’ll give you a personal example. My husband actually experienced perinatal depression himself. And I think given my background, I’m a mental health nurse, I was aware of it happening for him before he was.”

Australia Explained - Postnatal Depression

“Everyone’s experience is different. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a father or a mother. Perinatal depression impacts both,” says Dr Barnfield. Source: Moment RF / Vera Vita/Getty Images

An estimated one in ten fathers and one in five mothers are believed to experience perinatal depression.

Dr Barnfield explains that the source of triggers is similar for anyone affected by depression.
“It’s change that really makes a significant impact. And a lot of it has to do with personal expectations, and expectations of others, also the things that are out there in social media.
“If you’re comparing yourself to what looks like to be the ideal family or the ideal father, that puts an added burden of pressure on you to perform in that way.”
Dr Barnfield says checking in with your partner on how they are coping also makes it easier for you to express what you are feeling as a new parent.
“And even if you don’t know what to do, let her know that you actually are confused or that you’re fearful that you’re doing something wrong, work it out together. That’s the key.”
“Men are often brought up in a way that tells them they need to seem strong and the one that doesn’t necessarily express themselves and can just get on and do things.”
“Even in the space of perinatal depression, men might still be feeling all these things. They might be isolated, feeling lonely, but they don’t talk about it.”
Postnatal depression is treatable. Your doctor will assess your needs and recommend the appropriate treatment for you.

Speaking from experience, Sarah says it’s important for new mums to know there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Australia Explained - Postnatal Depression

silhouette asian new parents couple are having conflict and argument nearby windows at home while woman holding their baby Credit: PonyWang/Getty Images

For her, treatment involved antidepressant medication. Having documented her recovery process, she describes the moment treatment started bringing tangible results.

“It was like a light switch, because one day, I woke up and I literally felt like, I need to cook, I need to do this, and that for my child. And I was like, wow, okay, I’m feeling better. From that day onward, it just got better and better.”
Monitoring your mental health daily is the number one piece of advice Sarah offers new parents.
PANDA’s Ms Borninkhof agrees.
She emphasises that being prepared for the possibility of developing perinatal depression is as important as seeking help if you do experience it.
“Putting in place a mental health plan when you’re going into giving birth in the same way you would a birthing plan. And that’s whether or not you’re a new parent, or whether you’ve been a parent before, it feels different with every baby.”

Reach out for help when needed:

  • For help with perinatal anxiety and depression, call PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) on 1300 726 306 or visit  for resources translated into 40 languages. 
  • For information and free individual psychological counselling sessions (a maximum of 10 sessions) for expectant and new parents, delivered face-to-face from various locations in NSW, QLD and VIC, or telehealth sessions, visit the . 
  • For LGBTIQ+ support with mental health, contact QLife on 1800 184 527 or visit . 
  • For 24/7 crisis support, call  on 13 11 14. 
  • For telephone and online counselling services specific to men, call Mensline on 1300 78 99 78 or visit
Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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One thought on “Baby blues or postnatal depression? How to help yourself and your partner”
  1. As a new mom, I can personally attest to the overwhelming feelings that come with postnatal depression. It’s important to seek help and support from loved ones during this challenging time. Thank you for shedding light on this important topic.

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