Recently, the media has reported several stories relating to perinatal mood disorders (more commonly considered to be post-partum depression, but are not limited to depression). Guidelines around who should get screened and when have taken center stage. Despite this attention, many don’t realize what perinatal mood disorders are or whether or not they are at risk for one.
Quite simply, a perinatal mood disorder is a mental health concern that occurs either during pregnancy or post-partum. This can include depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, paranoid thinking, and thoughts to harm yourself or your baby. While these concerns exist prior to pregnancy for individuals, they can be exacerbated during pregnancy and after for several environmental reasons: changes in hormones and lack of sleep are two prevalent factors. Of course, not everyone who has a baby experiences changes in mood, and certainly, some people seem to be more resilient during this transition.
Common symptoms of a perinatal mood disorder may include:
*Changes in sleep (not being able to sleep at all, even when the baby is or
*Fears of something happening to the baby (being dropped, not
*Concerns (despite weight gain) that baby isn’t eating enough
*Disinterest or lack of connection to the baby
*A feeling of not being yourself
Nearly 1 in 8 women (and 1 in 10 men) experience a perinatal mood disorder. Treatment is simple and can range from therapy, medication, or both. However, without treatment, there can be long-term consequences that are dangerous for both mother and baby, as studies of depressed mothers have shown difficulties in their children as they age. There is a simple screening that you can opt to take to see if you might be experiencing a perinatal mood disorder and it can be found here. People who are are risk for developing a perinatal mood disorder include those that have experienced depression or anxiety during pregnancy; those that have a family member who had a perinatal mood disorder; those with a history (or family history) of depression or anxiety; those that have suffered a pregnancy loss; those that conceived through infertility; those with a baby that was in the NICU; teenage mothers; those that are having financial/housing/medical concerns; and those that do not have a social support system or a limited one. Certainly, this is not an exhaustive list, but is inclusive of many “red flags”.
If you are concerned about you or someone you know that might be having difficultly adjusting to life postpartum, you can contact your OB-GYN/Midwife/Primary Care Physician about a mental health referral. It is important that the clinician you meet with has experience and training in treating perinatal mood disorders as it is not something that most graduate programs cover.
By Julie Bindeman, Psy-D