Pregnancy, birth, and the early weeks of motherhood are cherished in our society. We see images of glowing women with child. We share the precious preparations of the nursery, complete with tiny socks and shoes. We adore those newborn photoshoots with soft props meant to highlight how new and how sweet the baby is. We expect this image of perfection to become reality. Even during those challenging 40 weeks of pregnancy, the painful hours of childbirth, and the sleepless nights of new parenthood, we dream of the joy to come. We know pregnancy takes its toll on our bodies, minds, and even our relationships. We know childbirth inevitably includes pain and fear. We know those first weeks or months will be trying. We also believe it will all be worth it, and we’ll make it through, stronger and better for it. And that’s true. It’s a time to be cherished, even if it’s challenging. But what happens when the new mother’s experience is shaped by depression and anxiety?
Depression and Anxiety During and After PregnancyCommonly referred to as postpartum depression, this mood disorder can happen either during pregnancy (perinatal), after birth (postpartum), or both. A number of factors can lead to postpartum depression, but chief among them are “hormones, neurochemistry, and life history,” according to Everyday Health. Another risk factor for postpartum depression is experiencing depression during pregnancy. I had brief periods of acute depression, during my first trimester. My midwife urged me to establish a relationship with a psychiatrist during my pregnancy, in the event that this arises after birth. I’m not immune. None of us is immune, as perinatal and postpartum depression can affect any woman. It doesn’t discriminate based on race, culture, or economic factors. However, some women are at higher risk, such as single mothers, low-income women, and those in cultures in which mental illness isn’t openly acknowledged. Additionally, women who have a history of mood disorders are at higher risk. For mothers with a history of depression and other mood disorders, changes in antidepressants or other medication may intensify postpartum depression. Many mothers stop taking their medication or change medications during pregnancy, and change again after birth, or while breastfeeding. These changes can cause a mood roller coaster for moms. It’s critical to tell your physician or mental health professional about medication changes changes and any effects on you. It’s also important to consider your own health and wellbeing, when making decisions about medications to continue or adjust during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
How do you know if you have postpartum depression? Generally, the symptoms of postpartum depression may include:
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, despair, or feeling overwhelmed and anxious
- Extreme fatigue, or changes in sleeping and eating patterns (though some of this is simply part of being a new parent)
- Feeling guilty, ashamed, and worthless, like your child or family might be better off without you
- Loss of interest in activities
- Withdrawing from your family and friends
- Lack of interest in your baby, or trouble bonding with your baby
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby (even if you don’t believe you’d ever take action on those thoughts, you still need help)