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November 15th, 2021

Perinatal Therapy: What it is and how it can help you

By Dr Rumina Taylor (Chief Clinical Officer)

  • Therapy
  • Perinatal mental health
  • Parenting
  • Depression

Having a baby can be the happiest period in your life - but it can also be the most difficult. Often, mental health issues can come from nowhere during pregnancy and seriously impact both expectant mothers and those who have already given birth.

Clinical psychologist at HelloSelf, Dr Joni Paton, stresses the importance of taking action if you’re feeling depressed during the perinatal period, telling us that: “suicide is the leading cause of death during the perinatal period. Mental health difficulties are under-recognised during this period and, as a result, these problems can lead to long-term impact on your child’s cognitive, social and emotional development.”

If you’re pregnant or you’ve recently given birth, feelings of sadness and depression can make you feel guilty and confused. After all, many mothers hope they’ll feel the ‘glow’ of pregnancy and expect that they’ll look back on this period of their lives in fond recollection.

Sadly, this couldn’t be further from the truth for many women in the world. In the UK alone, perinatal mental illness affects up to 20% of new and expectant mothers. This period in someone’s life can be difficult, and suffering from untreated mental illness might lead to something more serious.

It’s important that you know that you’re not alone. So many women experience mental health challenges related to childbirth and parenthood. Here at HelloSelf, we have a team of therapists who are specialists in helping you to feel better and regain your sense of happiness through specialist online therapy for perinatal depression.

Read on to find out more, or click the button below to get help from our therapy team.

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What is perinatal depression?

Perinatal depression is depression that affects anyone either pregnant or for up to one year following birth. It is specifically depression that most commonly impacts both antenatal and postnatal mothers. People frequently type ‘signs I have postnatal depression’ into Google UK, but the symptoms apply both to antenatal AND postnatal stages - hence the use of ‘perinatal’ by most larger organisations such as the NHS.

The signs you might have perinatal depression include:

  • Low mood
  • Anxiousness, restlessness and irritation
  • Poor sleeping/over-sleeping
  • Feeling isolated or lost
  • Lacking confidence and self-esteem
  • Feeling hostile, resentful or indifferent towards your partner or baby
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Experiencing suicidal ideation

What causes perinatal depression?

Many women feel guilty about having perinatal depression, adding yet another negative emotion to their current condition. This occurs because of the classic ‘why should I be unhappy’ thinking pattern - where expectant or new mums feel they should be happy because they’ve had a child.

However, perinatal depression is not your fault. It is a health condition like any other, something to be diagnosed and treated. Many things can cause it, including:

  • A history of mental health problems earlier in life
  • Mental health problems in your family - especially childbirth-related depression
  • Physical or psychological trauma
  • Stressful life events such as bereavement
  • Difficult relationships with your family or partner
  • Having a lack of close family or friends to lend support during pregnancy
  • The baby blues

Remember, though, the act of having a baby can be a traumatic experience all on its own. Even a successful, relatively pain-free birth can trigger trauma and lead to depression. The transition from a pregnant mother to suddenly having a dependent child you need to care for can be jarring. All of the above can lead to perinatal depression - but it can also just ‘happen’ without any clear cause.

The important thing is not just in recognising how you may have perinatal depression, but what you can do about it.

What does perinatal therapy involve?

Perinatal therapy can include different types of treatment. You may benefit, for example, from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help reframe your patterns of thinking and effectively manage? negative thoughts. You may also benefit from more solution-focused therapy, where your therapist will focus on listening to you, problem-solving, and supporting your growth.

The important thing to remember is that no two people are the same. While you may share that many women suffer from perinatal depression, your own experiences and situation will impact how your condition affects you and its severity. This is why our therapists will create a bespoke therapy plan which is focused on you and your life, not on a setlist of ‘perinatal therapy’ treatments.

Remember also that depression is not the only condition associated with perinatal parents. At HelloSelf we have worked with patients who have perinatal anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and more.

Why do online perinatal therapy?

Online therapy frees an expectant parent from many of the challenges associated with traditional therapy. As Dr Joni Paton indicates: “remote therapy makes it easier for people to access therapy as they can have sessions at home without needing to travel.

“It also means that no matter where a patient is located geographically, they can access the best specialists in the world. Evidence suggests remote delivery is just as effective as face-to-face therapy (Carbring et al 2018).”

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted traditional mental health support models and has unfortunately made it harder for those who seek therapy through public healthcare. Online therapy delivers fast, effective access to clinicians during a critical time in your life. In addition, the pregnancy and perinatal periods are time-limited, making the importance of getting therapy at the right time paramount to both parent and child’s long-term health.

At HelloSelf, our online therapy for perinatal parents includes evidence-based therapies such as CBT, compassion-focused treatment and trauma treatment. By offering effective and approachable online perinatal therapy, we give mothers access to psychological treatment when they need it most.

How can perinatal therapy help you?

Pregnant and postpartum mothers are tough. Whether you feel like it or not, you’re not only dealing with pregnancy but often grappling with other issues in life. When all of that is combined with depression or mental health challenges, things can get even harder.

Despite this, many mothers bottle things up and just ‘get on with it’. They feel sad after giving birth or during pregnancy but don’t think they need to seek help. However, just as you’d see your GP for recurring pain in an area of your body, you must also take care of your mind.

If you’re feeling any of the symptoms above and are pregnant or have recently given birth, you may be suffering from perinatal depression. If you’re finding it hard to reach out to someone, online therapy can be a great way to seek confidential clinical advice and to help get yourself back on the right track.

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What is postnatal depression?

Before we talk more about perinatal, let’s focus on the more commonly-known term ‘postnatal’ depression, also called postpartum depression, in some places. Postnatal depression describes a depression that affects people who have given birth. It is commonly diagnosed a few weeks after birth, but it can still be classed as a postnatal depression up to a year later. Many mothers experience a short period of baby blues, but more severe depression can also occur and must be treated.

Can I prevent postnatal depression?

As we’ve outlined, it’s not always possible to map a clear ‘cause’ for depression. Childbirth can trigger depression, and there may be little you can do about it. However, the NHS indicates there are some measures that you can take to maintain your wellbeing. These include:

  • Join antenatal groups to make friends with other expectant mothers or new parents.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise.
  • Talk to your GP if you have concerns about prior mental health issues in your own life or in your family.
  • Discuss your concerns with your midwife so they can support you.
  • Undergo online clinical therapy as a preventative method to help you to regain control over your wellbeing.

Can men suffer from postnatal depression?

Despite common misconceptions, it’s not just mothers who can struggle during pregnancy and childbirth. Research has shown that 1 in 10 new fathers struggle after having a baby. If you’ve recently become a dad but you’re feeling lost, hopeless and in despair, you might be suffering from postnatal depression and should seek help.

What is the difference between perinatal and postnatal?

Perinatal is a general term that includes postnatal stages within it. To understand the general use of perinatal as a term, it’s best to look at the different stages mental health issues can affect you.

  • Antenatal: this is the term that applies to the pregnancy itself. It means ‘pre-birth.
  • Postnatal/postpartum: this is the period immediately after giving birth and up to one year afterwards.
  • Perinatal: perinatal covers both of the above and applies to pregnancy and up to one year after giving birth.

Unlike the common ‘baby blues’, which is when you feel down for one or two weeks after giving birth, postnatal depression is a far deeper, more serious and often longer-term condition. However, perinatal depression can leave you feeling that way even before you’ve actually given birth.

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