What Is Perinatal Mental Health?
Majority of people have at least heard of Postpartum Depression, but the truth of the matter is, most people don't know how to recognize it. Postpartum Depression is not the only form of distress a mother can experience after labor and delivery though. Perinatal Mental Health includes several different types of mental health complications, and not just postpartum. Symptoms can show up anytime during pregnancy and up to one year postpartum. These are called Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs), and they are actually much more common than we realize. Many women don't receive proper treatment for their distress, which can have long term negative effects on the mother, child, and entire family unit.
Here are a few practical tips to support your perinatal mental health complications:
Managing sleep is huge! Have your trusted loved ones watch your baby while you get much deserved, uninterrupted sleep, or try to sleep while your baby sleeps
Eating healthy and getting exercise, even if it is just small movements around the house, or a walk down the block
Deep breathing in through your nose for 3 seconds and out through your mouth for 5 seconds until your heart rate begins to slow down
Engaging in activities that offer a sense of accomplishment or pleasure
During pregnancy, women experience many physical effects, and as their body begins to change, their mood can as well. The HCG hormone rises rapidly and at times can cause naturally occurring nausea, irregular thyroid levels, and fatigue. Progesterone is another pregnancy hormone that can naturally cause mood shifts. Then, towards the end of the pregnancy, oxytocin (commonly called the love hormone) increases to formulate bonding with baby in the womb, and eventually the newborn after delivery. These are all normal responses to the internal and external physical changes occurring in a woman during and shortly after pregnancy.
"While many women experience some mild mood changes during or after the birth of a child, 15 to 20% of women experience more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety."
Developing a PMAD is actually the most common complication of pregnancy. Risk factors or contributing factors can include biological, psychological, and/or social and environmental influences. One of the most challenging aspects though is deciphering whether the mother is experiencing a PMAD, or simply the "Baby Blues", which are normal levels of emotional distress and NOT a disorder.
(85% of women experience significant emotional distress during or after pregnancy)
BUT can still function and create bonds with baby
Typically last about 2-3 weeks after delivery
Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders
(15-20% of childbearing women suffer from a PMAD)
Major Depressive Disorder
Low excitement or joy about baby
Everything feels like a burden
Can't sleep even when baby sleeps
Feel like the worst mom in the world
Difficulty attaching and bonding with baby
Intrusive negative thoughts
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Worry, worry, worry
The distress feels urgent to the mom
Mom can't distract herself from her concerns
Mom can't relax even when baby sleeps or is in another's care
Mom is wound up, irritable, and uncomfortable in her own skin
Intrusive negative thoughts
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessions = unwanted intrusive thoughts or images that cause distress (usually focus on baby's safety)
Mom often fears that she will harm the baby
Compulsions = actions to "stop" the unwanted thoughts and/or images
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Traumatic birth, labor and delivery, or a NICU stay post delivery can be traumatic for the mother
Mom experiences triggers of the traumatic event
Pregnancy or birth complications leave mom fearful for her and her baby's life
Vivid memories and "re-experiencing" the associated distress
Attempts to avoid reminders or triggers (this can be particularly concerning if the baby is a trigger)
If any of the above symptoms or situations resonate with you or someone you know, then you are in the right place! You are NOT alone, and you don't have to continue feeling like this. It is important to start talking with your friends, family, physician, and consider seeking out professional help from a trained counselor. Therapeutic interventions based in empathy can help you identify and understand what is most distressing, develop specific goals, reduce significant symptoms, and stabilize the distress so you can enjoy motherhood.