It’s time for a quick perinatal mental health pop quiz! Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about perinatal mental health. False information persists because there continues to be significant social stigma associated with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Try these five questions to test your knowledge of a few important PMAD facts:
Perinatal depression is the most common complication of childbirth. Up to 15%-20%, or approximately 1 in 7, new mothers will experience clinically significant symptoms of depression and/or anxiety beginning during pregnancy or the postpartum period.
Biological mothers can and do experience perinatal mental health issues. However, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders can also be experienced by other individuals. For example, 1 in 10 fathers will also develop clinically significant symptoms that meet the criteria for a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. Adoptive parents, individuals who experience pregnancy loss, and those experiencing struggles with infertility can also experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
The “baby blues” are very common and will occur in approximately 80% of mothers. However, the “baby blues” are a normal and expected part of the postpartum period and are not classified as a disorder. The “baby blues” typically begin within the first week after giving birth due to rapid hormonal changes, the physical and emotional stress of the birthing process, and fatigue. Symptoms can include mood fluctuations, unexplained sadness, excessive fatigue, anxiety, and lack of concentration. Symptoms of the “baby blues” typically resolve without treatment within three weeks. However, a word of caution – the baby blues CAN lead into a more serious postpartum mood or anxiety disorder. If your symptoms do not resolve within three weeks, consider talking to your healthcare provider to determine if a more formal assessment is appropriate.
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are life-threatening medical emergencies. Suicide is one of the top three leading causes of maternal death worldwide. In the year following the birth of a child, a woman’s risk of suicide increases 70-fold. If you are experiencing suicidal ideation, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You are not alone and help is available.
Prevention of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders is absolutely possible. There is a defined period of risk, during pregnancy and the postpartum period with the most common peak of symptoms at 3 months postpartum. During this time period, most women are already in frequent contact with healthcare providers. Prevention should include universal screenings, universal guidelines that encourage sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition for all women, and accurate evidence-based information about perinatal mental health and possible treatment options. In some women at a high risk for developing a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, it may be appropriate to begin preventative medication immediately following the birth.
So, how did you do? Was there any information here that surprised you? I find that we often are not aware of many important facts related to PMADs because this is an issue that is difficult to address openly and honestly in our society. We must continue to challenge the stigma associated with seeking help for troubling symptoms during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Remember, you are not alone. If you are seeking additional resources related to PMADs, please check out the Perinatal Mental Health Services page.