During the perinatal period, many parents will, at one time or another, experience depressive or anxious symptoms. What can future mothers and fathers-to-be expect in terms of mental health? How can they support their well-being? Response elements.

“The perinatal period, which is actually from conception until one year after childbirth, is a period when everyone is most vulnerable,” says Valérie Samson, executive science consultant. nurses at CHU Sainte-Justine. “You are not born a parent, you become one. In the performance society we live in, with the omnipresence of social networks, it’s as if we had to love it and adapt to this whole new reality overnight,” continues the head of the Grande Ourse project of the CHU Sainte-Justine, which aims in particular to prevent mental disorders during the perinatal period. In mothers and fathers, this adaptation is more difficult and can cause some psychological distress. For women, this is without taking into account the hormones linked to pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding which can cause great upheavals.

Crying, sadness, some irritability: in the first two to three weeks after giving birth, 75% to 80% of women experience an episode of baby blues. If this condition persists and other symptoms add up, such as a loss of interest in activities you enjoy or a feeling of failure, it is possible that there is a bigger problem. The pandemic has also led to a marked increase in postpartum depression, which, according to research from the McGill University Health Center, affects one in three women in the Montreal area, compared to one in five women before 2020. But Depression isn’t the only mental health issue that plagues mothers. “There are a lot of anxious women who go under the radar because they’re able to keep the bar high. They will still do everything, but they are completely exhausted,” says Dr. Tuong Vi Nguyen, a psychiatrist specializing in perinatal health. There are far fewer statistics on anxiety disorders in new moms, however, says the associate professor at McGill University. It should be noted that fathers are also likely to experience these same problems.

How does stress or depression manifest at home? Do we have insomnia? Are we irritable? Since the arrival of a baby causes great upheavals, it is better to prepare for it by reflecting on your own physical and psychological signals that indicate that you are going through a more difficult period, recommend the two experts interviewed. To help with this introspection, the Big Dipper Project Support Kit can be used. Informative and very well designed, it also invites parents to note the activities that contribute to their well-being, whether it be exercising, meditating, drawing or writing, for example.

The majority of mental health problems do not appear overnight. “Sometimes six months before you really run out of resources, you start to suspect that things aren’t going as well as usual,” says Dr. Tuong Vi Nguyen. The one who is also co-founder of the Quebec Alliance for Perinatal Mental Health recommends taking steps to consult a therapist as soon as doubt arises since the waiting times are long. You should also not hesitate to talk to your obstetrician or family doctor about your feelings during or after pregnancy. “In 45% of cases of postnatal depression, there were symptoms in the antenatal period,” says Valérie Samson.

“When we’re not well, we have a little less hindsight and we don’t necessarily notice what’s going on”, raises Valérie Samson, however. Both parents should look out for each other and not be shy about bringing up the subject of mental health. “If the mother is depressed, her partner is much more likely to be depressed as well,” continues the Grande Ourse project manager. The couple’s entourage can support them by offering them a listening ear. “Sometimes the important thing is just to listen. Listen to hear, to understand. Not listening to answer,” says Valerie Samson.

To promote well-being and prevent mental health problems, it can be interesting to rub shoulders with other parents of young children. Present in most regions of Quebec, perinatal resource centers offer a multitude of activities, including café-rencontres, relief services and breastfeeding drop-ins. “It allows parents to find answers to their questions, to their concerns,” says Marie-Claude Dufour, Executive Director of the Network of Perinatal Resource Centers of Quebec. The activities that are offered make it possible to break isolation, prevent exhaustion and postpartum depression, but also facilitate the transition to parenthood. In some centres, there are also meeting groups focused on perinatal depression. “Sometimes we think we don’t need it, but going for a little walk in an organization, even when we feel that we are well, it can be useful to us”, underlines Marie-Claude Dufour, remembering that mothers and fathers from all walks of life are welcome there.