Being pregnant and giving birth can take a toll on women’s emotional well-being, and it’s no surprise. During pregnancy and afterward, not only does life change considerably, but women’s hormone levels also fluctuate.
That means even if she safely handles the added pressure of having a new baby, the physical and mental stress of carrying that baby, and the inevitable ways life will change with the new addition, pregnancy-related surges and dips in estrogen and progesterone can change the way neurotransmitters in women’s brains regulate mood.
The results? Well, they vary.
Perinatal mood disorders are common. One of the best known, postpartum depression, affects about one in 10 women each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s no drop in the bucket, and some groups, including nonprofit Postpartum Progress, think that number may be closer to 1 million women a year.
Know the Signs
Symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety can include depression, crying, sadness, feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, tension, restlessness, irritability, headaches, changes in appetite, thoughts of suicide, trouble sleeping, lack of energy, guilt about not being a good parent, trouble concentrating, panic attacks, repetitive negative thoughts and hyperventilating.
Postpartum depression is far from the only perinatal mood disorder. Postpartum anxiety disorders and a very serious condition called postpartum psychosis may also occur during this time.
An even more serious issue, postpartum psychosis may be accompanied by hallucinations, delusions and thoughts of harming oneself or one’s child. Postpartum psychosis is considered a serious psychiatric event and needs to be addressed by a medical provider as soon as possible to protect the mother, her child and others.
You’re Not Alone
While postpartum psychosis is the most serious of the three, all of these concerns can be disruptive and cause a great deal of physical and emotional pain if they go untreated. That’s why it’s so important to speak with a medical provider for help. And yet, it’s estimated that only about 15 percent of women with postpartum depression tell their doctors they are struggling.
There are solutions to perinatal mood disorders. Treatments include medication, counseling, lifestyle modifications and intensive intervention if needed. The sooner these problems are identified and addressed, the sooner families can get back to enjoying their newest members.