Depression and anxiety in new parents

Emerging Minds, Australia, October, 2022

Resource Summary

This resource explores depression and anxiety in new parents. It aims to help you understand that depression and anxiety are common around the time of your baby’s birth and during their first year of life. It also explores what to do if you or your partner is at risk or showing signs of mental health difficulties.


Emerging Minds acknowledges that families come in many forms. For the purposes of easy reading, the term ‘parent’ encompasses the biological, adoptive, foster and kinship carers of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up primary or shared responsibility in raising that child.

Becoming a parent can be a wonderful experience, but will no doubt involve some of the biggest physical and emotional changes you will ever go through. The joy of meeting your new baby is often coupled with new routines, a lack of sleep and changes to your identity and old life. It can take some getting used to and may at times leave you feeling flat. This transition to parenting can be understandably challenging, especially if you are already experiencing mental health difficulties or other life stressors.

It’s important to know that even the most prepared of new parents can experience difficulties. Feeling stressed, tired and overwhelmed at times, especially in the first few weeks, is very common. Many parents experience the ‘baby blues’ in the first week or so after giving birth, due to hormonal changes. Usually, after a few days (sometimes a week or two) of being teary and feeling a bit anxious, these feelings pass on their own. And worrying about whether you’re doing things right or that something bad will happen to your baby is understandable and completely normal.

But if these feelings and worries stay with you over time and start affecting your daily life and your ability to care for your baby and yourself, it is important to get help – from your general practitioner GP, child health nurse, a trusted health professional or one of the helplines listed later in this resource.

To learn more about the role of a GP, watch this video.

‘Around the four-month mark I remember thinking it was supposed to get easier, but for me it kept getting harder. People told me that Charlie would start to sleep for longer stretches and I would start to get more confident, and things would improve. But his sleep seemed to be getting worse and so too was my ability to cope with the constant sleep deprivation. I hated being left on my own with him, and felt helpless when I couldn’t settle him, or when he wouldn’t sleep. I would also get really anxious going to bed each night worrying how soon it would be before I got woken up again, which meant I couldn’t sleep properly!’

– Claire, new mother, Victoria

How common is depression and anxiety in new parents?

If you are feeling low or finding it hard to adjust to being a new parent, you are not alone. Around 1 in 5 women experience depression or anxiety in the first year after having a baby, and around 1 in 10 men experience depression or anxiety during this period.1,2 Of those men, most experience postnatal anxiety or depression around 3–6 months after becoming a dad. New parents often experience anxiety and depression at the same time.

If you have a history of mental illness, anxiety or depression, you may be at a higher risk of experiencing postnatal depression. But it also means you are better equipped to recognise when you may need some additional support.

Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) has more information on who may be at greater risk of experiencing depression and anxiety after having a baby.

Signs and symptoms of postnatal depression/postnatal anxiety

The mix and severity of mental health difficulties will be different for every parent. But common signs of postnatal depression or anxiety include:

  • feeling sad, low or hopeless for long periods
  • trouble sleeping (even when your baby is asleep)
  • feeling restless; and
  • having little or no interest in your baby.

The Raising Children Network has a comprehensive list of signs of postnatal anxiety and depression to look out for.

‘I always knew I wanted to have children. I did all the research, read all the books and thought I knew what to expect. What surprised me was the drastic change to my identity and how I felt in myself. I am normally a very happy person. I remember thinking, ‘why is it so hard when everyone else seems to be able to do it without any trouble?’ I cried a lot in those early months. My brain felt foggy, and I felt angry and irritable all the time. I started thinking I was a bad mother. I also felt really embarrassed by how I was feeling and didn’t want people to know that I was struggling.’

– Sara, new mother, South Australia

Who can help?

Firstly, it’s important to recognise the strength it takes to know when you might need some extra support. If how you feel is affecting your ability to enjoy your time with your new baby, it is important to talk to someone about what you’re experiencing. Getting support sooner rather than later will help you to get back on track, so you can start enjoying your life as a parent. Even on the tough days, it can help a lot to know you’re doing the best you can to look after your family’s wellbeing and future health.

Your GP is a great place to start – they can help you to work out what the normal challenges of having a new baby are and can recommend further specialist support if it’s required. They will ask you about your feelings and physical symptoms, and may do a physical examination and/or ask you to complete a questionnaire. Try to be as honest as possible – remember that depression and anxiety are quite common in new parents, and recovery is possible with support.

It’s also important to have good emotional and practical support during this time. Support from a partner, family, friends and/or community groups and services (listed at the end of this resource) will reduce your risk of experiencing mental health difficulties, and will help your recovery if you do experience them.

Postnatal depression and anxiety symptoms can sometimes be hard to spot. Some, like low energy and ‘brain fog’, are also side effects of the lack of sleep and stress that comes with caring for a baby. If you’re at all unsure if what you are feeling is normal, speak to your GP or health care professional. You can also call one of the parent helplines listed at the end of this resource and talk to a trained counsellor.

‘I wasn’t able to recognise in myself that something was wrong. It wasn’t until someone else told me I needed to get help that I did.’

– Claire, new mother, Victoria

Looking after yourself is part of looking after your baby

In addition to getting professional support (and treatment if necessary), many of the suggestions in our resource about self-care for new parents will help you on the road to recovery. These include:

  • asking for and accepting help
  • building a support network – family, friends and other parents you can talk to and who will support you when you need
  • playing with your baby each day
  • making time for yourself
  • trying to get enough sleep, eat healthy food and fit in some exercise.

It may be hard to find the energy during this time to practice self-care. But looking after your own wellbeing is key to supporting your baby’s mental health and development. Even taking just five minutes to try one of these suggestions can make a big difference.

Taking care of your baby

Postnatal depression and anxiety can get in the way of your relationship with your baby. Even though you may not always feel up to it, continuing to care for and interact with your infant is hugely important. You might feel low, disconnected or even numb at times, but what matters most to your baby is how you act when you’re around them.

Babies respond to their parents’ facial expressions, gestures and actions. It is important to spend time holding your infant close, looking into their eyes, smiling softly and talking gently to them, even if you’re having a tough time that day.

‘I wish I had reached out for support earlier. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed about not being able to cope with being a new mum – and that really got in the way of me getting professional support and getting back to enjoying spending time with my baby.

– Sara, new mother, South Australia

Talk to your GP or child health nurse or call one of the following parenting helplines for advice about staying attached to your baby while you’re struggling. Getting help early means you can start your recovery journey as soon as possible, and begin to enjoy the time spent with your baby.

Parent and mental health helplines

If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 000.

ForWhen is a national helpline providing mental health support for expecting and new parents. Call 1300 24 23 22, Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 4:30pm.

Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA)’s helpline is available Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 7:30pm. Call 1300 726 306.

Phone Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 or video call to speak with a trained counsellor 7:00am to midnight, seven days a week.

Call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or speak to a counsellor via webchat anytime – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Lifeline counsellors are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or text 0477 13 11 14.

More information and support for new parents

The following Australian websites provide more detailed information about depression and anxiety in new parents:


1. Leach, L. S., Poyser, C., & Fairweather‐Schmidt, K. (2017). Maternal perinatal anxiety: A review of prevalence and correlates. Clinical Psychologist, 21(1), 4–19. doi: 10.1111/cp.12058.

2. Leiferman, J. A., Farewell, C. V., Jewell, J., Lacy, R., Walls, J., Harnke, B., & Paulson, J. F. (2021). Anxiety among fathers during the prenatal and postpartum period: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 42(2), 152–161. doi:10.1080/0167482X.2021.1885025.

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