Ex­er­cise will help to clear away the ‘baby blues’ & de­pres­sion

Great Health Guide - - CONTENTS - Jen­nifer Small­ridge

Over 100,000 Aus­tralian fam­i­lies are af­fected by peri­na­tal anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion each year. PANDA - Peri­na­tal Anx­i­ety and De­pres­sion Aus­tralia – is a fan­tas­tic or­gan­i­sa­tion which ex­ists to share vi­tal in­for­ma­tion and sup­port men­tal health in the an­te­na­tal (dur­ing preg­nancy) and post­na­tal (after preg­nancy) pe­ri­ods to as­sist women mov­ing through post-natal de­pres­sion. Due to rapid changes in hor­mone lev­els, it is not un­com­mon for moth­ers to feel teary and over­whelmed in the three to five days after the birth of her child – up to 80% of women ex­pe­ri­ence the phe­nom­e­non known as ‘baby blues’ im­me­di­ately after child­birth. The good news is, aided by re­as­sur­ance and sup­port, these symp­toms gen­er­ally do fade after a few days with­out treat­ment.


Post-natal de­pres­sion (PND) is char­ac­terised by a sig­nif­i­cant pe­riod of de­pres­sion that comes on within the first 12 months of hav­ing a baby and usu­ally strikes within the first few weeks or months. It is most com­mon after a woman’s first preg­nancy and al­though the sever­ity can vary, symp­toms in­clude:

• feel­ings of low self es­teem

• lack of con­fi­dence

• feel­ings of in­ad­e­quacy and guilt

• feel­ing un­able to cope

• difficulty sleep­ing or sleep­ing too much. It is im­por­tant to men­tion that around 3% of fathers also ex­pe­ri­ence PND, and or­gan­i­sa­tions such as PANDA can as­sist with both ma­ter­nal and pa­ter­nal changes in men­tal health.


A large scale review of the lit­er­a­ture has re­vealed some re­cur­ring risk fac­tors for PND, listed be­low in or­der of their im­pact:

• de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety dur­ing preg­nancy, which is then ex­ac­er­bated after preg­nancy

• a per­sonal his­tory of de­pres­sion

• per­ceived life stress

• lack of so­cial sup­port

• mar­i­tal dis­sat­is­fac­tion

• low so­cio-eco­nomic sta­tus

• a dif­fi­cult or trau­matic birth ex­pe­ri­ence.


One study which looked into women’s be­liefs and at­ti­tudes around treat­ment for PND re­vealed, that the pre­ferred treat­ment choice for most women mov­ing through post-natal de­pres­sion, was in­di­vid­ual psy­chother­apy ses­sions. In­ter­est­ingly, al­though the value of so­cial sup­port for this pop­u­la­tion is well es­tab­lished, the women sur­veyed did not per­ceive group psy­chother­apy to be a de­sired op­tion – this may be be­cause of con­cur­rent anx­i­ety or sim­ply hav­ing too many sched­uled ap­point­ments dur­ing this im­por­tant time.


The an­tide­pres­sant ef­fect of ex­er­cise has been es­tab­lished across gen­eral

and clin­i­cal pop­u­la­tions and PND is no ex­cep­tion to this. Dur­ing post-natal de­pres­sion, it is worth men­tion­ing that an­tide­pres­sant med­i­ca­tions have some clin­i­cal ben­e­fit in one small trial, but there can be bar­ri­ers re­gard­ing this treat­ment op­tion dur­ing preg­nancy and breast­feed­ing. Please seek ad­vice from your Gen­eral Med­i­cal Prac­ti­tioner. On the other hand, ex­er­cise such as reg­u­lar walk­ing has min­i­mal side ef­fects and can be em­pow­er­ing for a new mother as they can self-ad­min­is­ter the ‘treat­ment’. A review of ex­er­cise in man­ag­ing PND ac­knowl­edges that phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity im­proves phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal health in the mother si­mul­ta­ne­ously and there­fore has a pos­i­tive flow on ef­fect to her chil­dren’s health. The bar­ri­ers to en­gag­ing in ex­er­cise after child­birth must be con­sid­ered, in­clud­ing changes in body weight and fit­ness, lack of time, low en­ergy and self-ef­fi­cacy due to PND. For­tu­nately, an ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­o­gist can use mo­ti­va­tional in­ter­view­ing tech­niques to work with cus­tomers to over­come recog­nised bar­ri­ers and bring aware­ness to other life­style fac­tors which may be con­ducive to well­be­ing.

The take home mes­sage: While most peo­ple know that ex­er­cise is good for them, we can­not un­der­es­ti­mate the per­ceived bar­ri­ers to be­ing ac­tive, while mov­ing through post-natal de­pres­sion. Re­fer­ring to an ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­o­gist dur­ing this time en­sures that there is a com­pre­hen­sive as­sess­ment and con­ver­sa­tion around ex­er­cise. This al­lows life­style ad­vice to be tai­lored to the in­di­vid­ual, with fre­quent fol­low up and sup­port, re­sult­ing in higher ad­her­ence and bet­ter out­comes for all.

Jen­nifer Small­ridge is an Ac­cred­ited Ex­er­cise Phys­i­ol­o­gist at Up­well Health

Col­lec­tive in Cam­ber­well, Vic­to­ria; as well as an Aca­demic Lec­turer in the fields of Ex­er­cise Sci­ence and Func­tional Hu­man Anatomy.

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