Welcoming a new baby into the world “should” be a joyous time. Yet, not every mom has that experience. If you’re feeling down, nervous, or easily angered you’re not alone. Many women wrestle with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
Christine Kowaleski, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner certified in family, neonatal and psychiatric care, offers important advice for women and their partners.
Identifying Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders encompass a vast array of emotional symptoms a mother or her partner may experience during or after a pregnancy. This is not just about “being emotional.” In fact, actual changes in the brain occur during pregnancy that contribute to symptoms.
Exactly who is affected is not completely understood. “In most cases, with appropriate screening during pregnancy and early postpartum, we can identify moms at risk,” states Kowaleski. “Yet, sometimes a person will have significant symptoms after all her screenings were negative. The best way for us to identify risk is to make clear to the mother that there’s no judgment. Oftentimes, moms are so afraid if they tell the truth in these screenings they’ll lose their babies. So that’s key.”
How Common Are Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders?
Statistics show that one out of seven to one out of five (14-20%) of women experience a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. That’s not including those who do not come forward. This is in stark contrast to more “physical” conditions like gestational diabetes and hypertension, which exist as 2-10% and 6-8%, respectively.
While those complications are largely tracked and monitored, less emphasis has historically been placed on a mother’s mental state. Greater awareness in the past few years has yielded more accurate data.
Signs and Symptoms
In some cases, symptoms of a potential issue are more difficult to pick up on. It makes sense for a mom to feel foggy, have trouble concentrating, and feel tired all the time when she’s not getting enough sleep. Yet, these could be signs of trouble. Other red flags include being quick to anger, extremely anxious, or having no interest in previously-enjoyed activities.
To be clear, some of these symptoms represent the natural progression from being pregnant to post-delivery, as Kowaleski explains. “When a mother is pregnant, her hormones climb up. By the time she delivers, they are all the way up in the penthouse. But, when they cut the cord those hormones immediately fly down on the fastest elevator to the basement. That hormone change is responsible for the baby blues. Yes, moms will be a little weepy. But, the ‘baby blues’ will disappear by three weeks postpartum. If a mom is experiencing symptoms past three weeks, it’s not just the blues anymore.”
A good resource for parents is the National Institute of Health’s action plan for depression and anxiety around pregnancy. The colors are analogous with a traffic light. Baby blues are in green, postpartum depression in yellow, and severe hopelessness or total despair is represented by red. This is a helpful guide to know when to enlist professional help.
There Is Hope
Different treatments are available for moms who are struggling postpartum, from integrative medicine approaches to prescription therapies. At Crouse Health, providers employ a personalized approach. There is also a free support group that meets twice a week and is also open to partners of moms dealing with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Kowaleski notes this can be incredibly helpful, because a lot of the “experienced” moms in the group share their story with new moms.
“The moms who have been in the group for a while will start out and talk about their experience. Sometimes I say, ‘Those moms can help you more than I can. I can give you medications, but you need to hear from other moms that you’re not alone. You’re not alone. This is not your fault. And you will get better with help.’”
**To listen to an in-depth conversation on this topic with Christine Kowaleski, DNP, MHNP-BC, click here.
Crouse News is reported by members of our Communications Team.