By Dr. Julie Meyer, DO
After nine months of waiting, you welcomed your beautiful baby into the world, but you aren’t quite feeling as joyful as you imagined. Instead you are tired, tearful and maybe even resentful, which makes you feel a pang of guilt. It is possible that you may be experiencing some perinatal mood disorders, postpartum depression (PPD) or anxiety, or the “baby blues.” No matter what you call it, it is important to first know that you are not alone. Mood disorders during and after pregnancy are very common and affect one in eight women, making it one the most common issues for new mothers.
Many mothers do not acknowledge the struggles they are going through and they try to put on a brave face, but it is important for those supporting her to consider how much life changes after delivery and to show support for each stage she goes through. These changes can include adjusting to sleep deprivation, major hormonal changes, learning how to feed a new baby, challenges of breastfeeding, recovery from the birth process and struggles with urinary incontinence. A mother’s postpartum mental health should be top of mind during pregnancy and after the baby arrives.
Perinatal depression includes a range of depressive and anxiety symptoms that can span the entire pregnancy and up to 12 months postpartum. It is very important to identify and treat these issues as soon as they arise, as untreated symptoms may have devastating effects on women, infants and families. Some symptoms of perinatal mood disorders may include:
- Frequent crying
- Anxiety, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Lack of appetite
- Fear about your role as a mother
- Withdrawing from family and friends or even the baby
- Not being able to bond with the baby
- Mood swings or panic attacks
- Thoughts of self-harm, harming the baby or even suicide
Ideally, couples should plan for postpartum care prior to delivery by consulting with a physician. Doctors will help you take the necessary steps to identify any risk factors for perinatal depression and discuss treatment for perinatal mood disorders. Your care team will help create a plan so you know where to go for your needs long before they are needed.
A few factors that increase the risk of symptoms include:
- Depression during pregnancy
- General stress in daily life
- Lack of social support
- Unintended pregnancy
- Single status
- History of depression
- Breast feeding problems
Treatment of symptoms usually involves a combination of therapy and/or medication. While some new mothers may be wary of medication, it is considered safe and the small risk of neonatal withdrawal from medication after delivery are generally short lived. Untreated depression is related to small birthweight babies, preterm labor and growth restriction. After birth, children born to mothers with untreated symptoms are at risk of needing psychiatric care. In this way, the benefits of using medication to treat perinatal mood disorders far outweigh the risks.
Your OBGYN will also be prepared to initiate medical therapy and/or refer patients to appropriate behavioral health resources. It is important to re-establish with a primary care physician for long-term health care. Women’s Health Specialists is here to guide and help you along your journey. Identification and treatment of mood disorders during and after pregnancy can make a world of difference in your pregnancy and birthing experience and we are here for you.