The perinatal period spans from pregnancy until one year after the delivery of the baby. Women experience a lot of changes during this time from their bodies to their hormones and to the reality of their daily lives. This is a stressful time for anyone, but sometimes the symptoms signify more than stress and warrant evaluation by your doctor.
Perinatal depression and anxiety are very common and treatable with psychotherapy and/or medications. A recent study shows that 10 to 15 percent of pregnant women and 15 to 20 percent of women in the postpartum period suffer from mood or anxiety symptoms. However, these symptoms are sometimes not recognized or go untreated, which can lead to problems for the mother and baby. Babies born to mothers with untreated depression have been shown to be more likely to have low birth weight, premature birth and are at higher risk to need care in a neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Also, new moms can be causing themselves and their families more harm by not seeking support. Knowing the risk factors, symptoms and treatment options of perinatal depression is the first step in getting help and protecting the health of the woman, her baby and her family.
Risk factors for anxiety and depression during the perinatal period include genetics and environmental factors, such as:
- Prior history of mood/anxiety problems
- Prior history of postpartum depression or anxiety in the mother or in her family
- Little social support
- Suddenly stopping use of psychiatric medications
- Current or past history of physical, sexual or emotional abuse
The signs or symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression are generally the same for people who are not pregnant/postpartum and can vary greatly in their severity. Some common symptoms include:
- Not enjoying daily life
- Feeling down or depressed most of the time
- Severe anxiety
- Worry keeping the mother awake even when baby is sleeping
- Panic attacks or thoughts of suicide
- Problems bonding with the baby
- Excessive worries about harm coming to the baby
- Thoughts of ending the baby’s life
Often under recognized, fathers can have postpartum anxiety and depression as well. A recent study showed the rate of postpartum depression and anxiety in new fathers may be 10 percent and some studies suggest it could be even higher.
Treatment and Options
Treatment with medications (antidepressants or antianxiety medications) during pregnancy or breastfeeding is an option to discuss with your psychiatrist and your OB/GYN. Each woman’s symptoms and life are unique and should be discussed on a case by case basis with her doctor and balanced with knowledge of the risks and benefits of medications as well as the risks of untreated depression and anxiety. Then the mother and her doctor can decide together what the options are and what the mother is most comfortable with.
If you or someone you know has any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about treatment options. You may have treatment with your OB, primary care doctor, a therapist or a psychiatrist. As always, if the symptoms are an emergency, such as thoughts of suicide, thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, hallucinations, or symptoms that are otherwise overwhelming you should go to the emergency room for an evaluation.
To schedule an appointment at the Perinatal Mental Health Clinic, call (225) 374-0400.