Preparing for the Storm: Mental Health during Pregnancy and Postpartum

By: Christine Young, LISW PMH-C

The perinatal period (pregnancy and the year postpartum) is unlike any other time in a person’s life.

Our medical systems place a significant emphasis on the expectant parents’ physical health. Parents attend routine checkups, sonograms, and Doppler readings. They join baby care classes and read countless books to learn about the physical developments of this little person inside.

However, like a side to the main dish, expectant parents’ mental health is often an afterthought. From wondering if baby is a boy or girl, to hair color, to what will life be like - how can we anticipate a mental health storm during the perinatal period?

What are perinatal mood disorders?

Perinatal mood disorders are mental health conditions that present in pregnancy and postpartum including depression, anxiety, OCD, panic, and bipolar disorders.

What should mothers know about perinatal mood disorders?

Perinatal mood disorders can happen to anyone and if you have a perinatal mood disorder, you are not alone! Studies show that up to 15% of mothers develop a mood disorder. Studies indicated that during the pandemic this number is closer to 30%. Perinatal mood disorders are temporary and treatable. Some symptoms include sadness, irritability, anger, rage, sleep disturbances (when you can sleep), feeling overwhelmed, appetite changes, mood swings, and exhaustion.

Who is a higher risk of developing postpartum depression?

Parents that have a biological predisposition or environmental factors are at an increased risk for postpartum depression. Some of the biological predispositions include those who are sensitive to hormonal changes, have a family history of depression, and/or are currently struggling with mood disorders. Some environmental factors include increased stress, first time mothers, military mothers, mothers of multiples, and younger mothers. 

What can I do to make sure I do not have depression/anxiety postpartum?

Unfortunately, no one can prevent a postpartum mood disorder. However, you can prepare for the possibility and increase your knowledge to help manage it if it does occur.

What causes perinatal mood disorders?

Many factors, environmental and biological, influence our bodies during such a drastic emotional and hormonal roller coaster. Many biological factors, such as a postpartum hormonal crash, are uncontrollable. However, your environmental factors, such as sleep deprivation, are controllable.

How can a family prepare?

Although not as easy as packing a hospital bag, there are ways to prepare to support perinatal mental health such as increasing education and awareness, attending support groups, taking medication if needed, and receiving individual therapy.

Do I need medication?

Mediation can be extremely helpful when struggling with any perinatal mood disorder; however, for many families medication does not need to be the first line of treatment. Psychotherapy (talk therapy) has a great impact on perinatal mood disorders. A combination of medication and psychotherapy may be necessary to relieve symptoms.

Do mood disorders only affect mothers?

No! Fathers can also experience perinatal mood disorders as they navigate through transition.

If I think I have a mood disorder, what should I do?

The first step is talking to your doctor or midwife about how you feel. The first two weeks postpartum are emotionally challenging as your body and mind adjust to this new little being in your world. However, if you have experienced depression or anxiety for over 2 weeks, you may need to take an assessment to lead you to the right direction.

We're Here to Help

If you need support with your mental health during pregnancy and new motherhood, Broadlawns Medical Center is here to help. Broadlawns offers the most comprehensive delivery system for mental health services in Central Iowa. Our professionals are dedicated to excellence, compassion, and personalized care. Individual therapy is available in-person and virtually for patients of all ages. To schedule an appointment call (515) 282-5695.