What are Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders?

| Megan Davis LCSW

Pregnancy and after childbirth are periods that hold many emotions for women as well as their partners and families. They can be times of great joy, gratitude, and purpose, yet also have the potential for many other difficult emotions such as fear, sadness, and panic. Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) affect up to 1 in 5 women and are the most common pregnancy complication, yet are often not discussed openly due to feelings of shame, stigma, and lack of information. PMADs do not discriminate against age, race, culture, or income level and can vary with each pregnancy. Symptoms may appear during pregnancy, immediately after childbirth, or any time throughout the postpartum period (which is typically identified as the first 12 months after birth). There are many possible factors that may contribute to the development of a PMAD such as changes in hormones, unmet expectations for having a baby, sleep deprivation, loss of identity, and fears surrounding parenting. Partners can also develop PMADs due to changes in roles and responsibilities that often occur.

Types of PMAD’s include the following:

  • Postpartum Depression
  • Postpartum Anxiety
  • Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Postpartum Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Postpartum Psychosis

Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) affect up to 1 in 5 women and are the most common pregnancy complication, yet are often not discussed openly due to feelings of shame, stigma, and lack of information.

Experiencing symptoms of a PMAD is not a sign of weakness, a personal flaw, or means that one is an incapable mother. It is simply something that needs extra support and attention, just as a woman would receive for gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. Information and participation in treatment, such as psychotherapy, can greatly reduce or eliminate symptoms and suffering. While many women experience changes in mood, sleep, and appetite after childbirth, here are some general things to look for:

  • Feelings of sadness/depression most days for 2 weeks or more
  • Feelings of irritability/anger with those around you
  • Withdrawing from those who support you
  • Difficulty connecting/bonding with baby
  • Difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly
  • Problems with appetite and sleep (i.e. not sleeping when baby is sleeping)
  • Feelings of anxiety/panic
  • Disturbing thoughts that will not go away
  • Feeling out of control or “crazy”
  • Fear that you are not a good mother
  • Concern that you may hurt yourself or your baby

Just as it has been mentioned, many new mothers may experience some of these symptoms, yet it is recommended that professional help is sought if symptoms are worsening, lasting for more than 2 weeks, make it difficult to complete daily tasks, taking care of oneself and/or the baby is difficult, and if thoughts of harming oneself or the baby are present.

If you or a loved one is experiencing these symptoms, there is hope! Talk therapy is often very helpful in providing support, educating, and developing coping skills for women, their partners, and families experiencing PMADs. Self care strategies such as getting adequate sleep, nutrition, physical activity, talking to supports, and getting assistance with the baby are also very important and are focuses early in treatment. Some women may also find medication management beneficial. Often, women who are experiencing a PMAD may not be aware of it, therefore if you are a partner, family member, or friend, it is helpful to assist your loved in in accessing resources and providing support. Here are some ways to to this:

Assist them with talking to their care provider (OBGYN, primary care doctor, midwife, etc.)

Call a suicide hotline if these thoughts are present 1-800-273-8255 www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Call the Postpartum Support International warmline at 1-800-944-4773 for connection to other area resources

Megan Davis, MSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist at Third Wave Psychotherapy, PLLC and has received advanced training through Postpartum Support International in maternal mental health. To schedule a telephone consultation or to establish an appointment please click the button below.

 Sources for the article are from Postpartum Support International and The Mayo Clinic

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