Most people have heard of postpartum depression, or the “baby blues,” which can start anywhere from two days to two weeks after giving birth. But did you know there are other common mental health conditions that can occur anytime from conception until a year after giving birth?
They are called perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs). Men along with women can experience these conditions that cause impairments in aspects of daily functioning.
“As many as 60 to 80 percent of women will experience the baby blues,” Colleen Furey, PsyD, one of our clinical psychologists, explains. “With baby blues though, people will still experience some feelings of happiness and there are typically no significant changes to their self-esteem.”
She continues, “on the other hand, as many as 14 percent of women and 10 percent of men experience a PMAD, which can include perinatal depression, anxiety, panic, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome and, more rarely, bipolar disorder or psychosis.”
Dr. Furey has specialized training in perinatal mental health and helps treat patients experiencing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs).
She shares that the risk factors for developing a PMAD include:
- Previous PMADs or family history of PMADs
- Previous mood/anxiety disorder
- Big mood reactions to hormonal changes
- Fertility difficulties
- Diabetes and/or thyroid problems
- Inadequate social support
- Financial stress
- Recent loss or move
- Barriers to care
- Interpersonal violence
- Sleep difficulties
However, if you are at risk for PMAD, there are steps you can take to lower your risk of developing it.
Known protective measures include:
- Having a postpartum plan that takes into consideration the support available to you
- Receiving information about PMADs in advance
- Utilizing your support systems
- Maintaining access to medical care
- Flexible thinking — “I am not Superwoman, I am a mom doing her best.”
- Being wary of social media and the “parent Influencers” that might represent unrealistic standards
Again, PMADs affect not just women, but also men during and after pregnancy.
“More and more, we are learning that dads and non-birthing partners can also develop PMADs,” Dr. Furey shares. “While in their case it’s not related to hormonal shifts, changes in routine and identity, the loss of their sex life and increased burdens around financial needs can be just some of the triggers for men and non-birthing partners to develop the condition.”
As with any mental health condition, the first step to getting help is a diagnosis. Thus, our OB/GYNs and pediatricians make sure to screen new parents for perinatal depression.
“They call me in when a patient screens positive,” Dr. Furey explains. “Treatment options can include counseling and talk therapy, support groups, medication and referral to reproductive psychiatrist when possible to prescribe appropriately to a woman who is pregnant or nursing. Stress reduction techniques, gentle exercise, massage and improvements in nutrition can also help alleviate some PMAD symptoms.”
And once your baby arrives, Dr. Furey recommends prioritizing your well-being.
“Sleep when you can. Eat regularly, even if it’s only small amounts. Be kind to your body. Move and get outside when you can. Text, call or visit with friends and family. And remember, things will not go to plan. Request, accept and embrace any supports you can. Be flexible in your thinking. Don’t forget to do the things you love, even in small amounts.”
Dr. Furey also emphasizes that help is always available to you from your OB/GYN, pediatrician and behavioral health consultants. Postpartum.net is also a good resource that includes information about PMADs and free therapy groups.