If you’re experiencing the baby blues, but your symptoms feel severe or last longer than a few weeks after childbirth, it’s worth talking to your health care provider. It’s possible that you’re not experiencing baby blues at this point, but rather a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder (PMAD).
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are rare.
For many years, the common term used for perinatal emotional disorders has been “postpartum depression.”2 However, postpartum depression is not the only mental-health disorder affecting women before and after childbirth.
Sometimes mothers are suffering from anxiety more than depression (although they can and do exist in tandem). The medical community now uses the term “perinatal mood and anxiety disorders” to encompass the entire spectrum of emotions women may feel during and after pregnancy3. PMADs can include feelings of depression, but also anxiety, irritability, and even rage.
In the United States, about 1 in 8 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression4.
Certain risk factors, including pre-existing mental-health conditions, can increase your likelihood of experiencing a mood disorder during the perinatal period5. That said, it’s possible to find yourself struggling with a PMAD, even if you have never had a mood disorder.
“It’s good to know whether you’re at higher risk for experiencing a PMAD, but it’s also important to remember that mood and anxiety disorders can happen to anyone,” says Chris Raines, a perinatal psychiatric nurse practitioner who’s been treating families for 20 years. “It’s completely possible for someone with no previous mental-health conditions to find themselves struggling for the first time after having a child.”
Women with a history of depression, anxiety disorders, or serious mood disorders are 30 to 35 percent more likely to develop postpartum depression6.
While anyone can suffer from a PMAD, an individual’s experience of dealing with a disorder is unique. Here, three women with different PMAD journeys share their stories:
Carrie struggled with postpartum anxiety. Even though she had trusted help, Carrie felt the need to be constantly on watch. She lost sleep and appetite until a psychiatric nurse identified her issue.
After feeling depressed during her pregnancy, Yolande struggled with fear and isolation postpartum. With the help of medication and therapy, she was able to manage her anxiety and have a positive experience with her second pregnancy.
Shortly after giving birth, Jen felt that something just wasn’t right. Through medication, movement, therapy, and mindfulness, Jen worked through her postpartum depression and anxiety to connect with her child and community.
PMADs can be tricky to diagnose. Each woman’s experience with pregnancy and becoming a mother is unique, and it’s not always easy to know whether what you’re experiencing is normal or a cause for concern.
To further complicate things, the symptoms for PMADs can vary widely, from feelings of confusion to sleep disturbances. A health care professional is the only person qualified to diagnose a PMAD. This resource can help you determine whether it’s time to reach out to your doctor for help:
There are options when it comes to treating PMADs, and the specific course of treatment will depend on a number of factors, including your personal health history, the type of PMAD you’re dealing with, and the severity and duration of your symptoms. A doctor can provide you with a diagnosis and treatment plan.
“It is common to use the Internet to try and self-diagnose, or try to ‘wait it out.’ However, this can actually make matters worse,” Raines says. “If you are experiencing a PMAD, at the end of the day, only a professional trained in perinatal mental health can tell you what’s happening and how to effectively manage it.”
Treatment plans may be as simple as peer-to-peer support and educating yourself on what is happening. It can also include therapy or medication.
PMADs can sound scary, but it’s important to remember that they’re common—and the result of all the big changes you’re experiencing. Labor, hormonal shifts, identity shifts, and sleep deprivation are just a few of the things you’re coping with, and these stressors can trigger responses in the body that we can’t always predict.
Paying attention to your symptoms, and knowing when to seek support, can get you on the road to feeling better, faster. So be sure to prioritize your health during these busy weeks and months.
Jen Schwartz had such a tough postpartum period that she created a place for moms to come together to talk about their experiences—and find the most helpful resources.
PSI helps women and families detect, understand, and seek treatment for mental-health issues during the postpartum period.
The first weeks after childbirth can be disorienting. Your emotions can feel like they’re on a roller coaster.
You might not be sure whether you need medication to treat your symptoms for depression or anxiety.
Regardless of where you are in your postpartum journey, there are many ways to elevate your mood.