Helping new mums beat postnatal depression

Associate Professor Megan Teychenne is developing a home-based health behaviour program, with the aim of reducing symptoms of postnatal depression.

Postnatal depression (PND) is one of the leading causes of illness and death among postnatal women. It’s estimated to affect up to 20 per cent of Australian mothers – a figure that has reportedly almost tripled since  the COVID-19 pandemic[1].

NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow, Associate Professor Megan Teychenne, is developing and testing a home-based health behaviour program, called Food, Move, and Sleep (FOMOS) for postnatal mental health, designed to reduce symptoms of postnatal depression.

Mothers with lived PND experience have been significantly involved in designing the FOMOS program to ensure it met their needs. The evidence-based, 6-month program will combine free hire of home exercise equipment, information/motivational material and social support delivered via web-app, text messages and social media.

“The program will target physical activity, diet, sleep and reduced sedentary behaviour – key behaviours that have been linked to the prevention and treatment of postnatal depressive symptoms,” Associate Professor Teychenne said.

“Just leaving the house can be difficult with a baby. Home-based programs give mums the flexibility to work around the sleeping and feeding routines of their babies,” Associate Professor Teychenne said.

For the first phase of Associate Professor Teychenne’s NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellowship research program, she has consulted with key stakeholders on the feasibility of the FOMOS program, including potential for real-world sustainable implementation and scalability.

Those consulted were healthcare professionals, mental health professionals, community organisations supporting new mothers, and government and non- organisations involved in mental and/or perinatal health policy and practice.

The second phase, to commence in 2023, will involve an 18-month randomised controlled trial (RCT) in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, to test the program’s impact on PND symptoms, and associated health behaviours.

“Postnatal women are a high-risk group for poor health behaviours and mental health problems. I hope that by improving health behaviours including diet, physical activity and sleep, that we will subsequently reduce depressive symptoms in this group,” Associate Professor Teychenne said.

“If the FOMOS program is effective and appealing to mums, it will show that face-to-face delivery of health behaviour programs may not be necessary to achieve improvements in health behaviours and mental health amongst postnatal women.

“It could also open up doors to utilising social media platforms in a positive way for behaviour change and mental health,” she said.


[1] Davenport MH, Meyer S, Meah VL, Strynadka MC, Khurana R: Moms Are Not OK: COVID-19 and Maternal Mental Health. 2020, 1(1).