Not Your Mother's Postpartum Depression
We're in a day in age where postpartum depression is being talked about and acknowledged as a serious public health issue by not only health professionals, but also the general public. For the most part. It's not uncommon to hear this topic being covered by the media in some way. Celebrities are opening up about their own struggles and news sources are sharing tragic stories of this illness taking lives to spread awareness about the potentially devastating consequences of postpartum depression. However, postpartum women have been and continue to struggle with other mental health symptoms.
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders is the new postpartum depression. This changed to reflect the spectrum of mental health symptoms a woman can experience during pregnancy and up to the first year after the birth of the baby(ies). Let's get with the times because SO MANY WOMEN are not recognizing their own symptoms and are not getting treatment for a treatable diagnosis, due to no fault of their own. Women may not identify with what they know of postpartum depression. You may have said or heard, "I don't feel sad or depressed" or, "I feel really attached to my baby", but can be experiencing incredibly difficult symptoms of a different mental health issue.
I'm going to break these down one-by-one because I think it's incredibly important for not only pregnant and postpartum women but family members and friends to understand some red flags. Family and friends may be able to identify symptoms before the mother does.
Again,these mental health disorder may occur during pregnancy or up to one year after the birth of the child. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders include:
1. Perinatal Depression - May include sadness, tearfulness, irritability, anger and even rage, withdrawal, sleep issues (beyond waking up for feedings & diaper changes), not wanting to be around other people, appetite changes, thoughts of harming oneself or the baby, feeling detached from the baby, lack of interest in things that used to bring pleasure.
2. Perinatal Anxiety - May include racing thoughts, shortness of breath, irritability, worry that something bad will happen to the baby, feeling fearful, sleep issues (beyond waking up for feedings & diaper changes), and appetite changes.
3. Obsessive-compulsive disorder - May include obsessions (intrusive thoughts/images or feeling fixated on thoughts often relating to the baby), and compulsions (behaviors that are repetitive to reduce or avoid the obsessions. Individuals who struggle with OCD are aware that the compulsions are excessive or out of the ordinary.
4. Perinatal Panic Disorder - May include shortness of breath (or feeling that you cannot breath), increased heart rate, heart palpitations, racing thoughts, dizziness or feeling light headed, and worry about future panic attacks.
5. Postpartum Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - Relates to traumatic pregnancy or childbirth experiences and may include re-experiencing thoughts or images about the traumatic pregnancy or birth, intrusive thoughts or dreams (nightmares) about the experiences. Avoidance of anything that reminds you of the traumatic experience including people, places, smells, thoughts, memories of the details. Increased arousal (feeling jumpy, irritable, angry, overstimulated, and sleep difficulty).
6. Perinatal Bipolar Disorder - Women diagnosed with bipolar disorder experience depression and manic or hypomanic states. The depressive episodes may be severe (see above for depression). Manic or hypomanic states may include excessive energy (prolonged), rapid speech, grandiose thoughts, little need for sleep, impulsive, overconfident, and may feel "on top of the world". The length of time and frequency of mood changes depends on the type of bipolar (type I or type II) and should be diagnosed by a mental health professional.
7. Postpartum Psychosis - May include delusions (a belief that is firmly held despite evidence that it is not based reality), hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not really there), irritability, bizarre thinking, sleep changes, mood changes, poor decision making. Often postpartum psychosis "comes out of the blue" earlier on after the birth of the baby and should be treated immediately.
The more people are aware that these perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are out there, the sooner we can start to recognize the symptoms and seek treatment. Remember, these mental health issues are not normal, but they are common. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are the most common complication from pregnancy! It is not something you did, wished for, said, ate...This is not your fault and this is treatable. Without treatment perinatal mood and anxiety disorder can have a devastating effect on mothers, their baby(ies), and their relationships.