Perinatal (Postpartum) Mental Health Disorders

Postpartum depression is one of several mood disorders experienced by new mothers in the first year. Many new mothers experience “baby blues” in the first few weeks following delivery. It is both common and normal, though unexpected and overwhelming. Women experience feeling down, irritable, tearful, or just out of sorts (mood swings). The blues are most commonly caused by hormone fluctuations following childbirth, begin several days after birth, can last for several weeks, and resolve when the mother’s hormones return to the pre-pregnancy levels.

Contributing factors to the blues and other PMADs include hormone changes following pregnancy and delivery; the overwhelming experience of caring for a newborn; fear or caring for the baby or concern about bonding with the baby; exhaustion and sleep deprivation; a traumatic birth experience or stay of baby in NICU; and a negative turn in the relationship between the new parents.

What you can do to lighten the baby blues (from Bringing Baby Home: A Program for New Parents Experiencing the Transition to Parenthood, Couples Workbook, and the Gottman Institute)

  1. Talk about the stress you are experiencing
  2. Allow your partner to help you
  3. Take time to rest
  4. Try relaxation or meditation
  5. Receive massage from your partner
  6. Eat well (have good nutrition in your diet)
  7. Allow others to help you with your baby

Sometimes the “baby blues” do not subside naturally with the balancing of hormones and/or a depressive, anxiety, or other mental health disorder sets in especially if the mother is genetically predisposed (15-20 percent of new mothers experience anxiety or depression beyond the blues). When these disorders are ignored, they can progress and have serious consequences that impact all members of the family – mom, dad, and baby.

Depression Sadness, lack of energy, lack of interest in baby, emptiness, numbness, nothing-ness
Anxiety Agitated, irritable, overwhelmed, hypervigilant, exhausted but can’t sleep, scary thoughts
Bipolar First diagnosis of bipolar in postpartum period, mania, not wanting/needing sleep
PTSD Birth trauma-real or perceived, nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance
OCD Obsessions: intrusive thoughts of harming self/baby. Compulsions: actions to deal with obsessions

Women should consult with their Primary Care Physician or Obstetrician and seek help from a mental health provider (counseling) or support group. Many communities and health systems offer new parent educational classes, support groups, lactation groups, and infant massage classes to help mothers learn and establish community during this transition. Mental health providers can assist by teaching coping skills, screening for and treating other mental health conditions, and providing an understanding ear.

Helpful Websites

Postpartum support international www.postpartum.net

Postpartum support Virginia www.postpartumva.org (lists local support groups and specialty counselors)

www.4women.gov

www.chss.iup.edu/postpartum

www.depressionafterdelivery.com

Books on Motherhood

All the Joy and No Fun. By Jennifer Senior 2014.

Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box. Ann Dunnewold, 2007.

A Good Birth: Finding the Positive and Profound in Your Childbirth Experience. Anne Drapkin Lyerly, MD. 2013.

This Isn’t What I Expected. Karen Kleiman and Valeri Raskin. 2013.

Mindful Motherhood. Cassandra Vieten. 2009.

And Baby Makes Three. John and Julia Gottman.

YouTube Resources

www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8UzJoKQU Inside a Mother’s head.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqKWWPDAY Moms to moms.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XjUFYxSxDk Tail of two brains.

Treatment

Women should consult with their Primary Care Physician or Obstetrician and seek help from a mental health provider (counseling) or support group. Many communities and health systems offer new parent educational classes, support groups, lactation groups, and infant massage classes to help mothers learn and establish community during this transition. Mental health providers can assist by teaching coping skills, screening for and treating other mental health conditions, and providing an understanding ear.  If you believe you are suffering from Postpartum Depression, call our office at (757) 827-7707 today to schedule an intake session!

Compiled by Shelby DeBause, MA, LMFT and Tracey R. Crawley, LMFT