Prenatal/Postpartum Mental Health
A woman goes through many changes after becoming pregnant and having a child. The experience is very layered and complex with changes occurring physically, hormonally, emotionally, and relationally. Not only is a woman’s body going through significant changes at all stages of the pregnancy and in the postpartum period, but women inevitably have to grapple with taking on a whole new role; often in the midst of challenging circumstances including sleep deprivation, adjusting to new restrictions on time/mobility, and finding a new balance between her role as a mother and the other parts of her life.
While many women experience some mild mood and/or anxiety symptoms during this life experience, it is estimated that 15-20% of women experience more significant mood and/or anxiety symptoms. “Baby blues” are defined as anxiety, irritation, tearfulness, and restlessness experienced in the first couple of weeks postpartum. These symptoms are mild and go away on their own. Postpartum depression/anxiety has a greater impact on a mother’s transition, can start anytime in the first year after a child is born, and often persists unless treatment is sought.
Symptoms can include:
- changes in appetite
- feelings of worthlessness/guilt
- feeling withdrawn
- lack of pleasure in activities
- loss of concentration
- loss of energy
- difficulty completing tasks
- significant anxiety
- experience of suicidal thoughts
- insomnia or hypersomnia
A woman with postpartum depression/anxiety may also be unable to care for herself or her baby, be afraid to be alone with her baby, have negative feelings toward the baby, or worry intensely about the baby.
Research indicates that there are a variety of effective psychological treatments (individual therapy, dyadic therapy, group therapy) for postpartum depression. Of note, depressive/anxiety symptoms during pregnancy often predicts these symptoms in the postpartum period with up to half of diagnosable PPD starting during pregnancy (American Psychological Association, http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/depression/postpartum.aspx). Evaluation and intervention can have a significant impact on a woman’s experience during her pregnancy and support the adjustment thereafter with benefits to the mother, but also her child and the larger family unit.
Krista Chow, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist providing a range of services for postpartum and prenatal mental health issues.