Help & Support - a quick look

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Parenting a preemie can be tough and it's important to find ways of coping and looking after your own health. It can also make you feel more in control if you can learn some great strategies to help with your prem's learning and development.


Finding a balance and a way forward

Parenting a preemie can be challenging and is a significant life transition. It is important that you find time and ways of taking care of your own health and wellbeing. Eating well, staying fit and healthy, and getting enough rest and relaxation are vital for optimal health. Maintaining and caring for relationships, especially with your partner is also important. If you need it, don't discard the option of professional assistance. Also, find advice about optimizing development and learning strategies to help with thinking & behavior difficulties.

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Ante and Postnatal Depression

Parents of preterm babies can experience extremely high levels of distress due to the trauma involved in having a preterm birth and all the associated issues. As such, parents of preterm babies are at significant risk of experiencing postnatal depression. Other terms commonly used to describe depression during and after pregnancy include; antenatal depression, postnatal depression, perinatal depression, and postpartum depression. Remember it's very important for parents of preterm babies to look after their own health, which is often overlooked while caring and worrying about their preemie.

Antenatal & Postnatal Depression: Overview

Post Natal and Ante Natal Depression (also both called Perinatal depression or PND) have long been big issues for mothers and their babies, but now we have greater awareness and ability to screen for, and provide services for these issues as they arise. We also know the rest of the family requires support and education around this serious issue, in order to not ‘buckle under the pressure’. While 15% of women are estimated to have Postnatal Depression / Anxiety (PND), the true rate could even be higher. We now know that at least 10 % of men also suffer PND, many not reporting it to health professionals. For a sufferer of PND, the partners are more at risk of getting PND than others.

The childbearing years, particularly the first few weeks after childbirth, are the peak period for onset of depression in women and 15–20% of women are affected. Disorders vary with respect to symptoms, timing of onset, causes, risk factors, severity and duration. They also vary in the need for professional assessment, and in the type of treatment. The good news is that PND often responds very well to early detection followed by well chosen treatment, under good medical and psychological direction.

(Singer et al., 2007; Singer et al., 1999) (Swaminathan, Alexander, & Boulet, 2006) (Singer, Davillier, Bruening, Hawkins, & Yamashita, 1996) (Halbreich, 2005).

Antenatal & Postnatal Depression: Risk Factors

Some of the catalysts for PND to show itself, otherwise known as the “risk factors” are predictable, others are less obvious. Potential risk factors include: a traumatic birth, a problematic pregnancy, health issues for mother or baby anytime from conception onwards, previous miscarriages, termination or loss of baby, marital conflict, shock and trauma around early nursing, disability or special needs in child or mother, age of mother at birth of child, hormonal imbalances, lack of familial and close support, grief and loss, post traumatic stress and lack of choices during birthing etc.,. Other psychosis or mental health history, family history of depression and anxiety are also risk factors. These factors can all be triggers for depressed mood and if this goes on over time, without appropriate intervention, PND can ensue.

Antenatal & Postnatal Depression: Parents of Preterm Babies

For mothers (and fathers) of preterm babies, there are often a host of these risk factors all operating at the same time. Therefore there is a vulnerability to postnatal depression occurring in parents of preterm babies. This is probably compounded by the likelihood that they are so busy taking care of any special needs their preterm baby may have, their own emotional health may be overlooked and they may not seek help for symptoms of PND. It is thus even more crucial that they utilize preventative and buffering strategies to address and prevent postnatal depression.

Antenatal & Postnatal Depression: Symptoms

Distinguishing between the ‘baby blues’, antenatal and postnatal depression. Short episodes of tiredness, nausea, aches and pains, irritability, sleep disturbance, and loss of interest in sex are relatively common as part of the normal adjustment process in the perinatal period and will not require treatment.

One of the key symptoms of PND is agitation and that often confuses sufferers. Many people expect PND, as it is a depression, to be just feelings of sadness and low motivation, instead of high anxiety, restlessness and obsessive thoughts. Some people can be so affected that they are unable to eat or sleep or plan their day, and this can go on for a prolonged period of time, and hunger and tiredness are not enough to right this situation.

It is important to know that people with depression are often not aware that something is wrong. Sometimes they “tune out” and cannot really hear their baby crying or perceive when their baby needs them. For others, its quite the opposite, the parent feels unable to “switch off” or relax at all, and they may feel that they have to constantly monitor their (preterm) baby's every tiny change in expression, or mood and take action, even when (preterm) baby is content, gaining weight well, sleeping well and is generally fine.

Antenatal & Postnatal Depression: Seeking Help & Support

When any of these key symptoms occur: it is important to seek help straight away. See a trusted obstetrician or shared care obstetric doctor or women’s doctor, or see a counsellor or check in with Helen Mayo House in SA and other state services such as Child and Youth Health or local Community Health, Hospital and Midwives. Also useful are the many help lines one can call and obtain free confidential counselling from, at any hour of the day.

Antenatal & Postnatal Depression: What you can do

If you are concerned about a partner or friend, suggest these resources to them and offer to help them find someone to talk to that they feel safe with. Get some support for you too as supporting a partner with depression can be very draining. Keep up basic health practices and have some time out for your relationship and for yourself.

For those experiencing symptoms, as much as you can, keep up good eating, exercise and sleeping/resting. Have regular contact with friends and partners – sometimes without babies around. Maintain your hobbies and interests and make time for yourself, and for you and your partner. Ask for help, even if you are usually self – sufficient. Most of all remember you are most definitely not alone, join a PND group and/or a preemie support group and you will be reassured to hear other women sharing honestly, in a non-judgemental setting, how hard this can really be and how you can make your way out of PND with the right support and help.

About the Author

  • Natalie Worth
  • Clinical Psychologist
  • Adelaide Hills 0413 984 724
  • Individual and Group Therapy

I see women with post natal adjustment and depression issues and offer groups and one to one services. Currently the groups have openings and I can offer a one off interview prior to joining a group and then in 1 month or so, I will have more one to one counselling spots available too. I am based in Littlehampton South Australia - my number for clients and workers is 0413 984 724. I am able to offer Medicare rebates for clients who are GP referred with a mental health care plan , and my current gap is $30.20, with some discounts and the group out of pocket fee is lower than this too.

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Preemie, Premmie, or Prem?

Most babies spend between 38 and 42 weeks in their mother’s uterus. So, technically a preterm birth, preemie, premmie, or prem, is an infant who is born less than 37 completed gestational weeks. 

Read More: Defining Preterm birth



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