Beyond 'Baby Blues': 6 Maternal Mental Health Issues You Should Know
There are a number of maternal mental health issues that can crop up from before conception until after a baby is born. Although these mood irregularities are fairly common, it can be shocking and guilt-inducing for new moms to experience parenthood as anything but a joy. But in talking about these issues, we can change attitudes about maternal mental health for the better.
The World Health Organization estimates that around the world, approximately 10 percent of pregnant women and 13 percent of women who have recently given birth suffer from a mental health disorder like depression. In developing nations, the rates of maternal mental illness are projected to be higher, affecting an estimated 15.6 percent of pregnant women and 19.8 percent of new mothers.
Though most of us have heard of "postpartum depression" or "baby blues," the term "perinatal mood and anxiety disorders," or PMAD, is being used more often these days to address the spectrum of mood imbalances that may affect women not just after giving birth but during pregnancy. The March of Dimes estimates that PMAD affects up to one in seven women, all told.
Here are six mental health disorders that affect women who are preparing for pregnancy, already pregnant, or postpartum — and how to get help managing them.
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Infertility-Related Anxiety and Depression: Trying for a baby isn't always fun, particularly for women who experience infertility. Symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress can accompany the struggle to conceive, and may also be brought on, or made worse by, medical fertility interventions. A 2009 newsletter article from Harvard Medical School cited a study of 200 couples seen consecutively at a fertility clinic, which found that half of the women and 15 percent of the men "said that infertility was the most upsetting experience of their lives."
Depression can also affect fertility outcomes in and of itself. A 2010 survey in Australia found that women who experienced infertility, and who also self-disclosed as having depression, were less likely to pursue fertility treatments.
If you are struggling with your fertility, it's important to talk to your doctor not only about your physical symptoms, but also about any emotional challenges you may be facing. These issues are treatable.
Prenatal Depression: Contrary to the old wives' tale that hormonal changes in pregnancy will ward off mental health conditions, pregnancy can actually cause depression in many women, particularly women who have had depressive episodes in the past. Depression during pregnancy is usually described as "prenatal depression" or "antenatal depression."
Feeling tired or sleeping too much, lack of appetite, and loss of enjoyment of regular things can all be signs of depression. It's important to remember that you aren't alone: A widely-cited statistic from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that anywhere from 14 to 23 percent of women will experience some depressive symptoms during pregnancy.
If you have a partner, talk to them about your symptoms and what you might need to help you through. And of course, make sure to discuss your feelings with your doctor or care provider.
Postpartum Depression: The most common maternal mental health issue — and the one most commonly known — is postpartum depression. The Mayo Clinic estimates that some 3 million American women will experience symptoms of the disorder this year.
Celebrities including Chrissy Teigen, Adele, and Sarah Michelle Gellar have all said that they suffered from depressive symptoms after the birth of a child. The rise in high-profile conversations has helped lift the secrecy surrounding postpartum depression, but because of the shame attached to the condition, many affected women continue to feel reluctant to discuss what they're going through or to seek treatment.
If you've recently given birth and feel irritable or extra moody, have stopped enjoying things that used to make you happy, or find you're having a hard time bonding with your baby, you could be suffering from postpartum depression. Your health care provider will be able to help.
Postpartum Anxiety Disorder: Postpartum anxiety can result in extreme physical reactions including changes in heart rate, hot flashes, rapid heartbeat, and nausea. The symptoms can be debilitating.
As Brit + Co writer Ashley Abramson recalls of her own experience with postpartum anxiety: "Juggling my newborn son's around-the-clock demands with my own physical and emotional needs — all the while sleep deprived — made me feel like I couldn't breathe. His stirring in the bassinet was enough to propel me into a full-blown panic attack that would keep me up all night, worrying about his well-being or mine."
It's crucial for new parents who think they may be suffering from postpartum anxiety to get immediate medical attention. Relief is in sight.
Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: P-PTSD is typically associated with a difficult birth and is estimated to affect nine percent of new moms. But with nearly one-third of American mothers describing childbirth as traumatic, there may be more women suffering P-PTSD than we think.
Women with a history of depression and anxiety, or who have experienced trauma in their past, are most likely to exhibit PTSD symptoms postpartum, according to Postpartum Support International. But that doesn’t mean that P-PTSD isn't treatable, even before symptoms develop.
Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), is often effective in addressing PTSD symptoms. Beyond traditional psychotherapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) has been shown to mitigate the lasting psychological effects of trauma in some patients. Both can be used before birth, and/or afterward with the aid of a licensed professional.
Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (PPOCD) is estimated to affect two to three percent of new moms, which means it's more than twice as common as other forms of OCD. As opposed to the more generalized symptoms linked to postpartum anxiety, PPOCD is typically associated with specific intrusive (and often violent or disturbing) thoughts that can exacerbate fears of being a "bad mom."
If you're a new mom and obsessively thinking about the possibility of hurting yourself (or your baby) or making a parenting mistake, compulsively throwing things away, or hoarding things, you might be suffering from postpartum OCD. Thankfully, OCD is highly treatable with cognitive behavioral therapy methods and certain medications. Talk to your doctor to learn more.