Depression After Pregnancy: Signs, Symptoms, and Getting Help

Whether it’s your first or fifth, having a baby is hard work physically, mentally, and emotionally. For many women, the experience of pregnancy, labor, and delivery can be followed by a period of sadness, loneliness, and feeling overwhelmed. Having a baby is a significant life event, and it’s natural to experience a range of emotions. But if those emotions start to have a debilitating impact on everyday life, these may be signs of “Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders” or PMADs. Formerly known as postpartum depression, PMADs describe a range of symptoms, including anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and psychosis (1-2 per 1,000) people.

If you are one of the 20% of women experiencing anxiety and/or depression in the first year after baby, there are two essential things you should know: you are not alone, and help is right around the corner.

What causes PMADs?

In short, PMADs do not have one single cause, but likely are a result of a combination of both physical and emotional factors. It’s important to know that PMADs aren’t caused by something a mother does or does not do.

After childbirth, hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone) in a woman’s body drop quickly. This leads to chemical changes in the brain that can trigger mood swings. Other factors linked to PMADs include:

  • History or family history of mood and/or anxiety disorders
  • Stress related to going back to work or school, lack of free time, sleep issues, relationship problems, not enough support
  • History of trauma
  • History of significant reproductive issues
  • Psychological factors including unrealistic expectations, perfectionistic tendencies, and difficulty with transitions

Additionally, many new mothers find they’re unable to get the rest they need to recover from childbirth fully. Constant sleep deprivation can lead to exhaustion and physical discomfort both of which can exacerbate the symptoms of PMADs

What are the symptoms of PMADs?

A person suffering from PMADs will often start experiencing symptoms within the first month of having a child. However, symptoms can occur anytime in the first 12 months and may even develop during pregnancy. In general, signs of PMADs are present for more than two weeks.

Symptoms of PMADs vary from person to person. Some of the more common signs and symptoms include:

  • Not sleeping even when baby is asleep, difficulty falling asleep
  • Low mood that is persistent; this may present in the form of hopelessness, sadness, frustration, anger, emptiness, irritability, a feeling of being overwhelmed, or other negative emotions
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Memory problems
  • Overwhelming anxiety or worry
  • Strong feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Withdrawal from loved ones
  • Loss of interest in caring for yourself
  • Not feeling up to doing everyday tasks
  • Severe mood swings
  • A strong sense of inadequacy or failure

Getting help

While PMADs are typically associated with just birth mothers, it’s important to know that any new parent may experience it. In fact, one study found that up to 25% of new partners will experience PMADs.

If you’re experiencing symptoms, or have a loved one who is, there are resources available. Most providers, including midwives, pediatricians, lactation consultants, and obstetricians, will discuss PMADs, symptoms, and treatments with new mothers.

Here are some tips for seeking help:

Schedule an appointment with your doctor

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may refer you to a local therapist or prescribe a pharmacological treatment.

Lean on your support system

Friends, family, and other new parents are an excellent resource for help and support.

Attend a local support group

To find a local group, visit PostPartumVA.org

Call the Moms on Call Program

Visit MomsOnCall.com

If you think you may be suffering from PMADs, we encourage you to reach out to your healthcare provider without delay. To schedule an appointment with one of our providers, call 434.299.8396.

Reference Entries

Capriles, A. (n.d.) Vital Signs [article] Retrieved from: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1aHJM5WmH6BQChamtkSHYNnAJDAD6JEUTl3SzVX_ZYbg/edit

Brogan, K., M.D. (2014, Mar 11) What causes postpartum depression? [blog post] Retrieved from: https://kellybroganmd.com/causes-postpartum-depression/

Ada Health. (n.d) Retrieved from: https://ada.com/signs-of-postpartum-depression/

National Institute of Mental Health (n.d.) Retrieved from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml

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