More than one in five new mums suffer post-natal depression, and the number is rising.
Australian researchers have proven that women who are perfectionists are at a higher risk of developing post-natal depression. They’re now trialling a way to treat these women before they give birth, to reduce their risk of suffering from it.
Dr Sarah Egan from Perth’s Curtin University has been researching perfectionism for years.
“We know that it’s related to all sorts of problems generally: anxiety, depression, eating disorders,” she tells The Motherish.
Dr Egan says there’s nothing wrong with people striving for higher standards.
“The sort of perfectionism that might become a problem or might make you more likely to get anxious and depressed is when you’re really self-critical,” she adds. “You really beat yourself up when you make mistakes. You base your whole self-esteem on how well you’re going at meeting your standards.”
A mother to a toddler herself, with another baby on the way, Dr Egan has seen that perfectionism is a real issue for pregnant women and mums. They might be expecting to keep the house as clean as it was before the baby came along. They might be imagining they'll have a "perfect bond" with their baby immediately after the birth. They might be assuming things like sleeping and feeding will go according to plan.
"There's so much about babies that you just can't control, particularly in that period when you're a new mum," Dr Egan explains. "People might be saying, 'I’m not doing a good enough job because my baby’s not sleeping well,' or, 'I’m not able to breastfeed well enough.' It’s actually got nothing to do with you."
Women with established careers, having their first child later in life, often fall victim to that kind of perfectionist thinking.