Depression test for new mums

All together now ... Andrew and Catherine Harding with Charlotte, 4, Zac, 7, and Lillian, 4.
All together now ... Andrew and Catherine Harding with Charlotte, 4, Zac, 7, and Lillian, 4. Photo: Dave Tease

Expectant mothers could soon be routinely tested for their risk of suffering postnatal depression (PND).

The national depression group Beyondblue is in consultation with the Federal Government to introduce the test and has backed a British study of 1400 women that found mothers of twins or triplets run almost double the risk of developing PND.

Almost 16 per cent of all Australian mothers will experience some form of depression, with the risk significantly higher for mothers of multiples. Beyondblue is calling for all pregnant women and new mothers to be routinely screened for the condition in the same way they are for high blood pressure or diabetes.

Beyondblue deputy chief executive Nicole Highet said mothers of twins or triplets may have already fought an emotional battle before their babies are born.

"There may be complications with conceiving, IVF and then the higher risk of miscarriage during the pregnancy," Dr Highet said.

Women often felt unrealistic pressure to be perfect mothers, setting themselves up for failure. "

"Then they have the birth, the babies may need to spend extra time in hospital if there are any health complications. After that there are the day-to-day logistics of looking after two newborns."

The British study found that one in eight mothers of multiples had been separated from their newborns in hospital while the babies were treated in neonatal units, causing pain, trauma and regret. The mothers reported feeling exhausted and isolated.

Dr Highet said increased discussion about PND had reduced the stigma of the condition, however many women were still falling through the cracks due to a lack of prenatal and postnatal screening.

"The rates of depression in partners of women with PND are very high - up to 50 to 60 per cent," Dr Highet said.

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"Long-term untreated PND can cause delayed cognitive and emotional development in the baby. The benefits of picking up PND early are immense."

Women often felt unrealistic pressure to be perfect mothers, setting themselves up for failure. "When things don't go to plan that increases the risk of stress and distress, and potentially anxiety and things can spiral out of control from there," Dr Highet said. "It is an at-risk time for those reasons."

General practitioner Ramesh Manocha said fractured family networks could also leave new mothers feeling isolated. He said risk factors included socio-economic stress and a lack of stable and supportive family relationships.

For help and information:
Lifeline, 131 114, or www.lifeline.org.au; beyondblue, 1300 224 636, or www.beyondblue.org.au.

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