What are Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs)?
People can experience mood and anxiety disorders at any time in their life, but during pregnancy or after childbirth, a woman has a higher risk. This is because the natural chemicals our bodies make (called hormones) are constantly changing throughout pregnancy. The way our hormones change during pregnancy can sometimes cause us to feel negative emotions. About 20% of women experience some form of mood or anxiety disorder after having a baby. When a mood or anxiety disorder happens during pregnancy or after childbirth, it is referred to as a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (or PMAD for short). If you are experiencing a PMAD, there is no need to suffer in silence. By reaching out for help, you can prevent the possible risks of an untreated PMAD, such as going into labor too soon, trouble bonding with your baby, language delays, attention problems, behavioral difficulties, and more.
I thought having the Baby Blues was normal?
It is! About 80% of all moms experience the Baby Blues (moodiness, weepiness, sadness, anxiety, lack of concentration, and feelings of dependency). The difference is that for the Baby Blues, the symptoms are usually mild and go away within a few weeks. If your symptoms are lasting more than a few weeks and/or seem severe, you may be suffering from a PMAD.
Who is at risk?
Any pregnant woman or new mom can be affected by a mood or anxiety disorder. It has nothing to do with things like age, race, religion, income level, where you live (etc.), but you are more at risk under the following circumstances:
- If you or a blood relative have suffered from depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders in the past
- If you have had a traumatic experience while giving birth to a child
- If you have (or have ever had) a baby in the NICU
- If you have a thyroid dysfunction
- If you are socially isolated without enough support from others
- If you have a history of PMS
- If you have ever had negative mood changes while taking birth control pills or fertility treatments
- If you stop psychiatric medication without consulting with a doctor
- If you abruptly stop breastfeeding (instead of weaning the baby slowly)
When can it happen?
Usually, a woman is affected by this type of disorder during pregnancy, right after childbirth, or within the first few weeks after the baby is born. However, postpartum depression can begin any time within the first year after giving birth. It usually starts out mild (getting worse as time goes on), but it can also come on strong right from the get-go.
What are some of the symptoms?
If you have any of the following symptoms that aren’t normal for you, seem excessive, and last more than a few weeks, it’s a good idea to reach out for help:
- Excessive worry or anxiety
- Irritability or short temper
- Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
- Difficulty making decisions
- Feelings of guilt
- Sleep problems / fatigue
- Lack of loving feelings toward the baby
- Loss of focus and concentration
- Changes in appetite / excessive weight loss or gain
- Unreasonable thoughts and fears that lead to repetitive behaviors
- Panic attacks
- Episodes of extreme anxiety
- Shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, sensations of choking or smothering
- Trembling, rapid heart-beat, numbness or tingling sensations
- Recurrent nightmares
- Reliving past traumatic events
- Rapid and severe mood swings
If you have any of the following symptoms (even if it’s the very first time), immediately call 911 for help:
- Seeing, hearing, or feeling things that others do not
- For example: Hearing the voice of God/devil, getting messages from the TV
- Delusional thinking
- For example: Denial of the birth or a need to harm the baby
- Mania (unusual, crazed, uncontrollable excitement as if you can’t slow down)
- Extreme confusion
Key questions to ask yourself:
- Am I sleeping OK when the baby sleeps?
- Any changes in my appetite?
- Am I experiencing anxiety or panic?
- Am I afraid to be alone with the baby?
- Do I feel more irritable or angry than usual?
- Am I afraid I might lose control?
- Am I worried about the way I feel right now?
- Am I afraid of any thoughts I’m having?
- Does my partner know how I’m feeling?
- Do I ever have thoughts about hurting myself or the baby?
- Is there anything I’m afraid to talk about but think I should?
Can a partner experience this type of mood or anxiety disorder?
Yes. Non-pregnant partners, whether male or female, could develop depression or anxiety due to having a new baby. They have a higher risk if they had depression or anxiety in the past, or if their partner (the mother of the baby) is currently suffering from a mood or anxiety disorder. They can use the same treatment options as their partner if needed.
What are the treatment options?
- Educate yourself (you have already begun by reading this page!)
- Reach out to family and friends for support
- Reach out to local, social support groups
- Use self-help techniques such as:
- Exercise, even if it’s just walking or relaxation yoga, which have been shown to lift the spirits
- Get enough rest / sleep as possible. Ask your partner or a dependable friend or family member to help with this by watching the baby while you nap.
- Eat a nutritious diet
- Consult with your doctor about taking an appropriate vitamin supplement
- Write your thoughts in a journal
- Keep expectations realistic… No one can be “Supermom”!
- Postpone major life changes (relocating or changing careers) until you’re feeling better
- Use prayer and/or spirituality to help you heal
- Find a counselor or therapist trained in Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders
- Try medication if your doctor feels it would be beneficial