Signs and Symptoms of Perinatal Mood Disorders

Date Published: January 2, 2020

While Postpartum depression is the most commonly occurring and most well- known perinatal mood disorder, other disorders such as anxiety, Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive- Compulsive Disorder (OCD), bi-polar and psychosis can also be experienced during pregnancy and following the birth of a child. These symptoms fall outside the normal realm of feelings, such as the “baby blues”, however sometimes it can be hard to tell just what is “normal” in this very new territory that is motherhood.

Perinatal mental health disorders are extremely common, with one in eight women experiencing a perinatal mood disorder with each birth. Some women may have never experienced a mental health disorder prior to pregnancy or childbirth so it can feel overwhelming and unfamiliar. For women who have had a mood disorder prior to pregnancy the risk or re-occurrence during pregnancy and postpartum increases significantly. We also no know that it is not only mothers who are at risk. The likelihood of a partner experiencing a mood disorder increases by 50% when the mother is experiencing one.

Research has shown that all perinatal mood disorders are harmful to the well being of the mother, the family and the child. For this reason, the earlier mothers and partners can identify the signs of a perinatal mood disorder the better the outcome is for everyone. No one should have to suffer alone and we are here to support you and your baby on this journey towards wellness.

For decades the mental health community referred to the first year after the birth of the child as postpartum and defined mood disorders as taking place exclusively during this time. We now know that the perinatal period begins at the time of conception, continues throughout pregnancy and can last up to two years after the baby is born. With this new understanding more and more women are starting to seek mental health support as early as their first trimester to manage symptoms of anxiety, depression and other perinatal specific mood disorders.

Many women suffer in silence out of shame, guilt or uncertainty about whether this is “just how parenthood feels.” The time has come when we can recognize what is healthy and what isn’t and manage symptoms. We can work together to heal and bring joy back into motherhood.

The most common signs of a perinatal mood disorder include:

  • Experiencing persistent sadness.
  • Relentless worry and/or anxiety. This may affect the ability to sleep or allow others to care for the baby.
  • Feeling “empty”, overwhelmed or helpless.
  • Experiencing frequent crying episodes (one or more a day for two weeks).
  • Panic attacks- this can feel like the heart is racing, often includes difficulty breathing and emotional paralysis.
  • Chronic fatigue (this is tough because all new moms are sleep deprived). It is recommended that new moms try to sleep at least 4 hours per night, when possible, to stay healthy.
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities.
  • Avoidance of romantic partner, social supports and/or the baby.
  • Persistent self-doubt, self-criticism and/or guilt.
  • Intrusive thoughts of accidental harm coming to the baby.
  • Intrusive thoughts of enacting harm on the baby.
  • Significant changes in eating and/or sleeping patterns (outside of the typical sleep deprivation and schedule shift that comes with taking care of a newborn).
  • Feeling irritable and/or angry at oneself and/or others.
  • Fear of being alone or separated from baby, which can result in not being able to let others care for or hold the baby or put the baby down.
  • Trouble making simple decisions and/or concentrating.

If you are struggling with even a few of these symptoms we recommend you seek support. Depending on the severity of your symptoms individually therapy, support groups and additional family support may be needed. To learn more about our specialized services. We are here to provide you with a better understanding of your symptoms and create a treatment plan to support your recovery.

To learn more about perinatal mood disorders and view local and national resources visit Postpartum Support International. PSI also offers a help line, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is a free resource to all in need. The number to call is 1-800-944-4773 or you can text 503-894-9453. Sage House Counseling & Art Therapy is proud to partner with PSI to bring expert care to individuals in need of specialize perinatal care.

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