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; 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.
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 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 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 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:
1 // Knowing that everyone finds it challenging to learn how to care well for a baby and manage your home – you are not alone.
2 // Asking a maternal and child health nurse for practical advice.
3 // Talking to your partner about how to share the increased workload at home – avoid criticising each other.
4 // Sharing baby task – babies benefit from receiving care, e.g. bathing, nappy changing and settling from both parents.
5 // Accepting practical help from friends and family if they offer.
What others can do to help a new parent
1 // Share increased household work in ways that feel fair.
2 // Listen to each other’s needs – be kind and encouraging.
3 // Avoid criticism – it undermines confidence.
4 // Help manage visitors keen to see you and meet baby so you don’t become overtired.
5 // Support each other in having some time away from day-to-day responsibilities.
For family and friends:
1 // Be upfront in offering help – most new parents find it difficult to ask for help with practical tasks.
2 // Offer practical support e.g. pick up an older child from childcare, buy groceries, prepare a meal, hang out washing.
3 // Help them find ways to make new friends at the same life stage.
4 // Give lots of praise and encouragement.
5 // 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 jeanhailes.org.au
If you would like to share your experiences of becoming a parent and write for the blog email WWWTblog@jeanhailes.org.au
For information on postnatal depression go to https://www.jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/mental-emotional-health/postnatal-depression
Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for
1800 JEAN HAILES (532 642)
Liked this? Try reading “She let go: A poem”.