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WA experts tackle baby blues
Coping well: Michelle Stuckey and Amber. Picture: Mogens Johansen/The West Australian

Perth doctors are starting a world-first study that will track thousands of new mothers to see how they cope, after a pilot study revealed almost half suffer depression, anxiety or other problems by 10 weeks after the birth.

Researchers hope to survey about 3500 WA women who had a baby at a private hospital in a six-month period last year to see how they managed with the physical and psychological demands of new motherhood.

Unlike other studies that have focused on postnatal depression or birth complications, the research is believed to be the first to look at all the problems facing new mothers, including anxiety, crying babies and relationship issues.

Known as the Take Up of Postnatal Services, it is being run by child and infant psychiatrist Caroline Zanetti from the St John of God Raphael Centre Subiaco and SJOG Subiaco Hospital's director of obstetrics and gynaecology Michael Gannon.

A pilot study of 175 new mothers found that by 10 weeks after birth, 43 per cent had problems such as depression or feeding issues serious enough to need professional help.

This was concerning because most women had been coping well in the first week after birth.

"Through obstetricians, we'll be trying to find out from women how they went in the first six months, including breastfeeding problems, whether they had unhappy thoughts about their delivery, and if they felt OK being at home alone with the baby," Professor Zanetti said.

"We want to know if they are getting the services they need, because at the moment we don't know the answer because no one has ever asked women in such a comprehensive way.

"But having a baby is a big thing, so the results could be of enormous interest to policymakers and service providers."

Michelle Stuckey is coping well with her eight-week-old baby Amber but welcomed the study and believes all new mothers should be screened for potential emotional and psychological problems.

"It should be done just as newborn babies are screened for hearing loss," she said.

Women will do the survey online and remain anonymous. Initially, 50 women will test the system before the bigger study starts. Researchers hope to repeat it every five years and extend it to women in public hospitals.

We want to know if they are getting the services they need. "Professor Caroline Zanetti