The birth of a child is one of life’s most profound changes. And while it’s often met with joy and celebration, it’s also a time when new mothers are extremely susceptible to depression and anxiety. Between hormonal fluctuations, chemical changes, exhaustion, physical recovery – not to mention the challenges of caring for a newborn - it’s not surprising that most women will experience mood changes and “the baby blues.”

1 out of 7 women, however, experience more extreme symptoms of depression and anxiety. In fact, the symptoms can appear at any point during the pregnancy and into the first 12 months after the birth.

According to Postpartum Support International, there are several forms of illness women may experience.

Depression during pregnancy and postpartum

The most common complication of childbirth, depression affects approximately 15% of women.

Symptoms may include:

·      Crying and sadness

·      Feelings of guilt, shame or hopelessness

·      Anger and irritability

·      Lack of interest in the baby

·      Possible thoughts of harming yourself or the baby

Anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum


While some women experience anxiety in addition to depression, others are exclusively impacted by constant worry and panic attacks. Approximately 6% of pregnant women and 10% of postpartum women develop anxiety.  

Symptoms may include:

·      Racing thoughts

·      Panic attacks

·      Inability to sit still

·      Dizziness, hot flashes and nausea

Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The most misunderstood and misdiagnosed of all perinatal disorders, approximately 3-5% of new mothers and some new fathers experience OCD.

Symptoms may include:

·      Obsessive or intrusive thoughts or mental images related to the baby

·      Compulsions to do activities that reduce fears, like cleaning, checking or putting things in order

·      Fear of being alone with the baby

·      Hypervigilance to protect the baby

Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Approximately 9% of women experience PTSD from childbirth, such as an unplanned C-section, baby going to the NICU, feelings of powerlessness during birth, or from past traumatic experiences.

Symptoms may include:

·      Intrusive thoughts and re-experiencing the trauma

·      Flashbacks or nightmares

·      Avoidance of anything associated with the event

·      Anxiety and panic attacks

Bipolar Mood Disorder

Many women are diagnosed with bipolar depression or mania for the first time during pregnancy. It may look like severe depression or anxiety, and mood history must be addressed to determine if there is a pattern of distinct highs and lows.

Symptoms may include:

·      Periods of severe depression

·      Periods when mood is much better

·      Racing thoughts

·      Continuous high energy

·      Impulsiveness and poor judgment

·      Delusions and hallucinations

Postpartum Psychosis

A rare illness, PPP occurs in approximately 1-2 out of every 1,000 births. Onset is sudden and typically within the first 2 weeks postpartum. The condition itself is temporary and very treatable, but it is a medical emergency and requires immediate help. There is an approximately 5% suicide rate and 4% infanticide rate associated with postpartum psychosis.

Symptoms may include:

·      Delusions or hallucinations

·      Hyperactivity

·      Decreased ability or need for sleep

·      Paranoia

·      Rapid mood swings

It is important to remember that perinatal mood disorders are not the mother’s fault and she is not to blame. Women with a history of depression, anxiety and other mood disorders are especially susceptible to perinatal mental health issues, but because they can impact anyone it’s important to pay attention to the signs and symptoms.

With the right tools and support, which may range from rest and self-care, to individual or group counseling, to medication and antidepressants, women can and do make a full recovery. Giving women the space to talk freely and without judgment about their experiences as mothers can end the shame and stigma that surrounds perinatal mood disorders.

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