The first week in May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, and that means
doulas everywhere will be working to bring this important topic to light for
new parents. Did you know that postpartum depression and other mood disorders
are the #1 complication of having a baby? Did you know that postpartum
depression and “the baby blues” are two totally different things? Keep reading
to learn the signs and symptoms of potential mood disorders which can arise
during and after pregnancy.

Postpartum Depression or “Baby Blues?”

“It’s just the baby blues”, many new moms will hear from
well-meaning friends and relatives. Characterized by mood swings, fears and
anxieties of not being able to be a good parent, tears, and fatigue during the
first couple weeks postpartum, the baby blues are caused by hormonal shifts and
are experienced by at least 80% of new moms. However, postpartum depression can
happen any time, even a year or more after giving birth. The symptoms are the
same as clinical depression and are said to affect at least 20% of new moms.

Postpartum Anxiety and OCD

Postpartum anxiety or OCD can arise any time during or after
pregnancy. Regular anxiety can be exacerbated by pregnancy, and cause fears
leading to disturbances in eating, sleeping, and normal life routines. OCD,
obsessive-compulsive disorder, takes it a step further. Parents suffering from
OCD may exhibit compulsive behaviors (such as extreme safety measures,
too-frequent handwashing, too-frequent nursery sanitization and reorganization)
in order to deal with anxiety and scary thoughts which enter the mind. The
important thing to know is, these scary thoughts do not mean that you will
actually do anything to harm yourself or your baby, because you can recognize
that they are just thoughts.

Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis is the most rare and severe form of
perinatal mood disorder, affecting just 0.1% of new moms. The symptoms include
delusions and hallucinations, sleep disturbances, paranoia, communication
struggles, and severe changes to activity level and mood. Because these
episodes cause the sufferer to be removed from reality, this is what is going
on when a new mother acts upon thoughts of harm to self or child. A family
history of psychotic episodes or bipolar disorder is the biggest risk factor.
Although this is a terrifying diagnosis requiring immediate hospitalization,
with rapid identification and response, many sufferers are able to make a full
recovery. It is not something that any of us want to think about, but education
means survival when it comes to rare complications and we must be aware.

What to Do if You Are

Since so many parents struggle with perinatal mood
disorders, it’s important to know what to do.

  • Tell someone. Too many suffer in silence,
    fearing judgment. Talk to your OB-GYN or midwife, spouse, friend, doula.
  • Consider seeking a therapist. A good counselor
    specializing in postpartum mental health can help you work through issues and
    let you know if medication may help.
  • Be open to receiving support. Receive what
    others offer, and if they don’t offer, ask. This can include childcare,
    errands, meals, a listening ear, and whatever your practical needs are.
    Consider utilizing a postpartum doula, who is not only trained to identify and
    support parents through perinatal mood disorders, but can also help meet your
    practical and emotional day to day needs and send you to the best practitioners
    for therapy and integrative services.
  • Suggested Resources:
    • Postpartum Support International is an online resource that is dedicated to helping families suffering from postpartum depression, anxiety, and distress.  You can search here to find counselors who specialize in postpartum mood disorders.
    • PostpartumMen is a place for men with concerns about depression, anxiety or other problems with mood after the birth of a child. It promotes self-help, provides important information for fathers – including a self-assessment for postpartum depression – hosts an online forum for dads to talk to each other, offers resources, gathers new information about men’s experiences postpartum, and – most importantly – helps fathers to beat the baby blues.
    • Books:

      By Shoshana S. Bennett PhD: Postpartum Depression for Dummies; Pregnant on Prozac: The Essential Guide To Making The Best Decision For You And Your Baby; Beyond the Blues: Understanding and Treating Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

If you have had a baby and you don’t feel the way you
expected, know that you are not alone. You can get through this challenge, and
come out of it on the other side. Reach out, utilize all help. You are strong!
Please share to help raise awareness for other parents and those who love them,
and contact us if you are looking for a professional postpartum doula in Utah
to support you through your journey.