One in eight Kiwi women are depressed during pregnancy, new research finds

Antenatal depression sufferer Stefanie Dixon with her son Frank, 2, and daughter Anna, 4.

Antenatal depression sufferer Stefanie Dixon with her son Frank, 2, and daughter Anna, 4.

One in eight Kiwi mums are depressed during their pregnancy, which could be doing serious harm to their health and that of their unborn child, new research has found.

The Government-backed Growing Up in New Zealand study has uncovered enough evidence to suggest depression during pregnancy, commonly known as antenatal depression, is a "widespread burden", with Pacific Island and Asian mothers twice as likely to be affected.

Researchers from the University of Auckland also found the risk of developing antenatal depression was three times higher for women diagnosed with anxiety before and during their pregnancy, regardless of their ethnicity.

Associate Professor Karen Waldie said the findings suggested doctors and midwives in this country needed to do more to recognise and treat the problem.

"The high number of cases might even justify further consideration of the benefits of a nationwide screening programme for the condition."

Women suffering from antenatal depression can struggle to take care of their own health, which can slow the growth of their unborn baby, increase the risk of a premature birth and delay the child's motor and emotional development.

"Women affected by antenatal depression are more likely to smoke and eat poorly, resulting in too much or not enough weight gain," Waldie said.

"These women are also less likely to make use of maternity services or breastfeed, and have a higher risk of experiencing depression after their child is born."

Antenatal depression was more common in women who were in a relationship but not living with their partner, suggesting the prospect of raising a baby without their partner had a negative effect on maternal mental health.

Symptoms of depression were also more likely to be reported by women who had an unplanned pregnancy, as well as those who lived in an unstable family setup and those who felt less integrated into their neighbourhood, Waldie said.

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New Zealand College of Midwives adviser Norma Campbell said she believed midwives were sufficiently trained to spot antenatal depression and were doing a good job of picking it up.

The problem was a lack of pathways for dealing with the condition, which was often caused by factors outside the pregnancy, such as financial or relationship stress.

"Midwives can to refer to GPs when they spot mental health issues ... and while medication might lift your mood, it doesn't remove many of the causes of depression."

Providing more counselling services and metal health support, particularly for people in rural areas, should be looked at before a national screening programme, Campbell said.

Antionette Ben, executive director of Wellington's Post & Antenatal Distress Support Group, said that while severe antenatal depression was being picked up by the health system, there was not enough resources out there for women with mild-to-moderate symptoms.

The Ministry of Health said it was unable to respond to questions yesterday, while a spokeswoman for Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said he was unreachable for comment.


Stefanie Dixon became so overcome with anxiety during her second pregnancy that she feared going outside.

The feeling set in after the birth of her daughter Anna in 2012 and returned when she became pregnant with her son Frank two years later.

"For me, it more more a feeling of being overwhelmed, rather than that sinking feeling," she said.

"I just couldn't cope if I had to take my child out and pack a nappy bag and go meet someone at a cafe - it was just too hard. So I didn't go outside, I stayed at home and became reclusive."

Yet the Wellington mother-of-two never really thought of herself as having either postnatal or antenatal depression because the concept was so foreign to her.

"No one in my antenatal group or social circle was talking about depression. If a doctor asked me if I was depressed, I'd say no. If a midwife asked me if I was depressed, I'd say no."

Dixon eventually sought help from a local support group and now reaches out to other women struggling with the pressures of being a mother.

More support services and monitoring of mothers before, during and long after they give birth was needed to tackle the problem, as was a greater effort to educated the public, she said.


  • Feeling consistently down or anxious during pregnancy, or feeling extremes of emotion that will not go away.
  • Not coping with day-to-day tasks for more than a few weeks.
  • Excessive worrying and having difficulty sleeping.
  • In more extreme cases: thoughts of self-harm and suicide or thoughts of harming the baby and/or other children.

 - Stuff


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