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DID YOU KNOW women are more likely to experience a mental health problem in the year following childbirth than they are at any other time in their lives?

This information comes as a big shock to women who expect that becoming a mum will be the happiest time of their life! Of course it is for some women, but 15-20% of women will experience clinically significant levels of depression and anxiety during pregnancy and after the birth of their baby. Surprisingly, we don’t know a huge amount about why this happens for some women and not others.

I am a psychologist who has worked with pregnant women and new mums for about ten years now, and have been amazed to see that that the treatment of anxiety and depression during pregnancy and after the birth of a baby has really not changed in many years. This is despite more awareness of perinatal depression and anxiety, and also an increasing body of evidence showing the importance of lifestyle factors like diet in the prevention and treatment of mental health problems in the general population.

One reason for this is that there is not enough ‘evidence’ for the role of lifestyle factors for pregnant women and new mums (even though it might seem like common sense to you and I!). This means that mainstream health care professionals tend not to recommend any lifestyle changes for women who are experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, mental health problems at this time in their lives.  So the treatment continues to be medication (and counselling if women are lucky). Understandably, many women are reluctant to take medication in pregnancy (with good reason it now seems) and so too many women go untreated or undertreated. My dream is to be able to offer some evidence that is acceptable to the mainstream health care professionals showing that diet is important for mental health during pregnancy and in the year following, and so I am conducting a PhD. This is a big deal for me, because I once told my husband he should divorce me if I ever said I was going to be a PhD! (he hasn’t taken me up on this thankfully).  I am so passionate about this area that I have committed to undertaking this huge amount of work, but to get it done I need the support of a community of women either to complete the surveys if they are pregnant, or to promote the study if they are not. Good research just does not happen without people taking part.

I have designed my study so it is totally online, to make it easier for women to take part, so please get involved!

The study webpage is www.perinatalfoodandmoodstudy.com.au and my psychology page is www.angiewillcocks.com

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