Many pregnant parents experience depression, however there are ways to support the resilience of parents and unborn babies.

Pregnancy is a time of great change – not just physically, but also emotionally. Anything that’s bad for the pregnant parent's health negatively affects the wellbeing of the unborn baby too.

Growing up in New Zealand

New Zealand's longitudinal study Growing up in New Zealand tracks the development, and what shapes it, of approximately 7000 New Zealand children.

Report 1 of the study, 'Before we are born' (November 2010), suggests that families are given more information now than in the past about things that harm pregnant parents and their unborn babies. However, not all parents heed the guidelines – especially regarding what they eat and drink.

In terms of emotional health, Growing up in New Zealand has found that one in eight New Zealand pregnant parents suffer from depression symptoms, with Pacific and Asian parents twice as likely to be affected.

The risk is three times higher for parents who were diagnosed with anxiety before and during pregnancy, regardless of their ethnicity.

Stress was also found to be an important factor. The more stressed pregnant parents feel during pregnancy the more likely they are to experience depression symptoms.

Prenatal depression

Pregnant parents experiencing prenatal depression are more likely to:

  • have had an unplanned pregnancy
  • be in a relationship but not living with their partner
  • be living in an unstable family situation
  • feel less integrated into their neighbourhood
  • smoke, and eat poorly – resulting in weight loss or gain that affects baby’s development
  • not make use of maternity services or breastfeed
  • also experience postnatal depression.

Building resilience

The direct opposite of the risk factors above are known to build resilience. The pregnant parent will be more resilient if they have:

  • emotional, whānau and social support
  • a supportive relationship with their partner
  • a strong, caring family environment
  • positive family values and traditions
  • practical support.

The unborn baby will be more resilient if their parents:

  • have realistic and accurate expectations about caring for a newborn baby
  • have a warm and loving bond with baby
  • are sensitive, nurturing and protective of baby.