Postnatal Depression – Unrealistic Expectations and Postnatal Depression

For many women, having a baby is the most significant physical, social and emotional upheaval they have ever experienced. The emotions women often describe following childbirth and the start of parenthood are:

  • Joy
  • Love
  • Surprise
  • Amazement
  • Euphoria
  • Delight
  • Tenderness
  • Protectiveness
  • Achievement

However, because parenthood is a constant and demanding job, some women’s experiences are not like the media images of two happy parents with a clean, cuddly, well-fed, sleeping baby.

Dealing with changes in your lifestyle and everyday routines during pregnancy and later with your baby’s health, behaviour patterns and temperament all require enormous physical stamina and emotional commitment. It is not surprising that parents find it hard to cope at times.

Most women want to be a good mother and anything less than perfection can seem like an enormous disappointment. Some people’s expectations of pregnancy and motherhood are unrealistic. Some unhelpful beliefs are:

  • I’ll always enjoy parenthood
  • I will lead a healthy lifestyle for my baby
  • My life won’t change
  • Having a baby will improve my marriage / relationship
  • I will instinctively know how to look after my baby
  • I will always feel content and in control
  • There is something wrong with me if I can’t cope
  • Mothers immediately recognise and love their baby
  • Good mothers don’t have negative feelings towards their children
  • All other women are coping well

These unrealistic expectations can lead women to blame themselves and be reluctant to seek help, worrying that they will be labelled as inadequate or a poor mother, rather than realising it takes time to adjust to motherhood. The task of motherhood can be enormous and there are lots of things to learn.

Many women feel ashamed if they are not coping, believing this should be the happiest time of their lives. It is important to acknowledge to yourself that it is okay to seek help and tell people you are feeling depressed, anxious, angry or confused.

Persistent low mood, together with some of the feelings described below, for a period of 2 weeks or more, may indicate clinical depression. This may require further assessment and treatment.

  • Feeling unable to cope
  • Pre-occupied with obsessive or morbid thoughts
  • Thoughts of harm to yourself or your baby
  • Confusion and guilt
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Finding that your moods change dramatically
  • Crying uncontrollably or feeling teary
  • Unrealistic feelings that you are inadequate
  • Always exhausted or hyperactive

If you are concerned about the way you are feeling or coping with parenthood, talk to a doctor, midwife, obstetrician or maternal & child health nurse and ask them to refer you to an experienced health professional.

Alternatively, find a family member of friend you trust and who listens to you in a supportive way and talk to them about how you are feeling.

Depression following childbirth should not be confused with the “baby blues”. Up to 80% of women experience the “blues” which tends to peak three to five days following delivery and is caused mainly by hormonal changes at birth. Women often feel teary and a bit overwhelmed for a few days.

It is important to realise that depression is a treatable condition, one from which you can recover given the appropriate time (eg. medication and counselling), support from family and friends and time. Treatment options include individual counselling, psychological treatment, couple counselling, support groups, medication and admission to a hospital or mother and baby unit.

For more help and / or information, please contact the following resources:

Postnatal Depression Online Resources

Emergency Telephone Support

  • Dona Maria Pre & PostNatal Support line: 1300 555 578
  • CARE RING (24 hours): 136 16
  • Lifeline (24 hours): 131 114
  • Parent Line: 132 289
  • Women’s Health Information Centre: (03) 9344 2277
  • Maternal & Child Health Line (24 hours): 132 229
  • Relationships Australia: 1800 817 569


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