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Women and Newborn Health Service

Health A – Z


Emotional Health for Parents

Treatment Options

There are a number of treatment options for emotional problems, and each has a place in a treatment plan.

Often, two or more treatments are used at the same time. The combination of treatments will depend on your needs, your symptoms and the services available in your community.

Health professionals can help you find the best treatment approach for you. You may be referred to a specialist if necessary.

Some treatment options for women and families include:

Individual counselling

Lifestyle changes and alternative therapies


Individual counselling

Individual counselling involves talking about any problems or issues with a counsellor. The counsellor generally uses a non-judgemental approach to support you and listen to you. This can help you develop effective ways to deal with challenges in your life.

Individual psychotherapy

Psychotherapy aims to help address those aspects of your life which make you vulnerable to developing mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. There are many types of psychotherapy to suit different people and situations. Trained mental health professionals, such as clinical psychologists or psychiatrists, usually provide psychotherapy.

“In therapy I gained an enormous amount of self awareness. I feel like I know myself properly now and I have learned new ways of coping with the issues in my life.” – Sophie

Couple counselling or couple therapy

Counselling or therapy for couples can be useful to help you and your partner understand each other and develop a good relationship. The demands on both of you during pregnancy and after childbirth can create tension and conflict in your relationship. A skilled couples counsellor or relationship therapist can help you find positive ways to adjust to changes, relate to each other and improve your relationship.

Group treatments or support groups

Many group approaches are available including self-help, support and treatment groups.

Self-help groups are often run by women who have recovered from depression and anxiety, and have received special training to provide information and support.

A health professional, like a community nurse or social worker, usually runs support groups. They provide the opportunity to share experiences, get useful information and develop practical skills.

Treatment or therapy groups are usually run by a trained mental health professional. These groups usually run for a set time (e.g., 10 weeks). You normally have an assessment before the first session and partners may be invited to attend at least one session in the program.

“The group was fantastic. I still use its principles to this day.The greatest gift of the group was support from other women who knew exactly how I felt. There was no judgement, no ridicule or hurt. Just nurturing and support.” – Tanja

For more information about treatment and support groups in Perth, visit the Parenting WA Courses Guide (which is updated every school term).

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Practical support in the home

Practical, at-home support usually invovles help for parents with tasks like cooking, cleaning and taking care of the baby (or any older children). This kind of help can take some pressure off you while you adjust to life with your new baby.

Practical support can be provided by a variety of sources including family, friends, and even your neighbours. Some community services in WA also offer in-home support services using volunteers or support workers – ask your GP or child health nurse for more information.


Medication can play an important role in treating depression and anxiety, and tends to work best when paired with counselling, therapy, or other support services.

Many women worry about taking medication and the effect it will have on their baby. The Obstetric Drug Information Service at the Women and Newborn Health Service can provide further information on the use of drugs in breastfeeding mothers. The service operates from 8:30am to 5:00pm on weekdays and can be contacted on telephone (08) 6458 2723.

If you are prescribed medication, be aware that it can take 1-2 weeks to have an effect. Also, you should not suddenly stop taking it once you start feeling better. Usually antidepressant treatment should continue for 6–24 months after full recovery is achieved.

Antidepressants are not addictive, though you should be checked by your GP or psychiatrist for side effects and symptoms of relapse when coming off medication.

Needing medication doesn’t mean you’ve failed or haven’t tried hard enough.

Many people find when they are depressed or anxious, they feel sleepy, have little motivation, and their thoughts are “foggy”. This can make it hard to use self-help or psychological treatments. Medication can help improve your symptoms, helping you cope better so you can try other strategies that will help you recover and prevent relapses.

Medication is often needed when:

  • Your symptoms are hard to shift (e.g., a low mood that doesn't change for several weeks)
  • You have dramatic mood swings
  • You are not able to get back to sleep after feeding the baby
  • You have appetite changes and weight loss (or gain)
  • You have difficulty getting most tasks done
  • You are feeling constantly tired
  • You have thoughts of "being better off dead."

“I went on medication which was the best thing I ever did. It took the edge off my feelings, enabling me to step back and look at the real things in my life. I now enjoy my life and family so much more, and have learned to prioritise.” – Mother of 2 girls

Admission to hospital or Mother and Baby Unit

Sometimes, a woman will experience severe emotional difficulties and need to go to hospital as a result. This is even more important if the woman, or her partner or family, feels she may be at risk of harm to herself or her baby.

Usually a woman going through postpartum psychosis will need to go to hospital. This will help her symptoms to become stable and allow her to start appropriate treatment.

Admission to a Mother and Baby Unit can be very helpful to assist women to begin treatment while they are in a safe place. They can stay with their baby while getting additional support.

Mothercraft centres (eg, Ngala) are able to offer day-stays and longer stays for parents to help resolve infant related problems (eg, settling, sleeping difficulties).

The Raphael Centre (St John of God Health Care) also offers services for the whole family, including a telephone support line, mental health assessment, and a range of group and individual treatments.

If your partner or a loved one has been admitted to hospital, “Puerperal Psychosis: A carer’s survival guide” is an excellent and highly recommended resource to read.

Lifestyle changes and alternative therapies

Research shows that many therapeutic lifestyle changes can improve and maintain mental wellbeing. Not only has research shown they are effective, but they are also cheap, great for physical health, and can supplement formal treatment you might be receiving.

If you’re thinking of making changes to your lifestyle, especially to your diet or exercise routine, be sure to talk with your GP or another health professional – particularly during pregnancy and in the first 6 weeks or so after having your baby.


There appears to be a dose-response relationship between exercise and wellbeing. That is, the more you do, the better you feel.

Exercise can boost mood by increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine, which occur naturally in your body. Exercise can also release endorphins which create a sense of wellbeing and relieve pain.

Exercise can also help lift your mood and energy levels by just getting you out of the house. It can be even better if you exercise with someone else, like your partner or a friend.

Ask your GP or obstetrician if it is safe for you to exercise during pregnancy. Also check with them when you it is safe for you to start exercising after birth. If your health professional agrees, and you have no other physical complications, exercise is likely to be great for you.


A healthy diet is essential to your physical and emotional wellbeing. It is especially important when you are pregnant or have just had a baby because of the major nutritional stresses on your body at this time.

A diet full of multi-coloured fruits and vegetables is a great way to take care of yourself and it can also boost your mood and sense of wellbeing. Fish is also excellent for omega-3 oils.

Wherever you can, avoid excess calories and remember to drink plenty of water – especially if you’re breastfeeding.

If you need advice, talk with your health professional about the type of diet you should be eating. Don’t take extra supplements or make major changes without talking to a professional first.

Relaxation, yoga and meditation

Learning ways to relax can assist with stress reduction by easing muscle tension and reducing anxious thoughts. Relaxation can be self-taught, but it can help to learn from a professional or instructions on CD or the internet. One of the most common types of relaxation training is progressive muscle relaxation.

Yoga can also be used as a way to relax and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. A typical yoga class taught in Australia usually involves a combination of physical postures, breathing techniques and meditation. Some teachers specialise in pregnancy, postnatal or ‘mums and bubs’ yoga. As yoga is also a form of exercise, you should talk with a health professional before taking a class during pregnancy or after your baby is born.

While meditation can be part of a yoga class, it can also be practiced by itself. Although meditation was once a more spiritual practice, today it is also recommended by many health professionals as a form of therapy. There are many different types of meditation including visualisation, mindfulness and walking meditations, and different people are drawn to different styles.

Alternative medications

Herb-based products are sometimes used to treat mild depression. However, these treatments may not be safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women, or women with postnatal depression. Also, these treatments can interact with other medications prescribed by your doctor.

Fish oil is helpful in pregnancy and postnatally – just be sure to check that mercury levels in the fish oil are certified as being low and in the safe range.

Talk to your doctor before using any kind of alternative medications. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have postnatal depression, alternative medications may not be appropriate for you.

Computer or internet interventions

There are programs online that provide information and structured activities to assist people to overcome depression and anxiety. Many programs have been designed to be completed on your own, but the programs linked to actual health professionals seem to work the best.

Some computer-based interventions you might like to try include:

If you want more information, beyondblue has great resources about treatment options including:

  • A guide to what works for depression
  • A guide to what works for anxiety disorders

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