Pregnancy is a whirlwind of emotions – you’re laughing, you’re crying…maybe you peed a little…it’s a lot! But what comes after can be equally as rewarding, draining, and confusing. You may find yourself staring down at your little cherub at 3am wondering, “What am I even doing?” and plotting your escape. Whether it’s feeling disconnected from your baby, intrusive thoughts, or “mom rage”, pregnancy changes your body and mind.
One common sentiment expressed to struggling parents is, “It’s just the baby blues!” with the promise it’ll go away on its own soon. But what exactly are ‘the baby blues’? And how do you know if it’s something more? Let’s break down some common mental health concerns that parents experience during and after pregnancy.
Postpartum mood swings are a temporary emotional state that lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks after birth. Likely caused by a surge of hormones combined with the lack of good sleep patterns, about 80% of birthing parents experience the baby blues after pregnancy. If you find yourself not being able to sleep when you have the magic opportunity to rest, or having a breakdown over a pair of mismatched socks, that could be a case of the baby blues.
Though postpartum mood swings usually resolve themselves without intervention, you don’t have to go through them alone. A postpartum doula, mental health therapist, or support group can help you prepare for and manage those waves of emotions. If the ‘baby blues’ last longer than two weeks, it’s likely postpartum depression.
The window of time throughout pregnancy and after birth is called the “perinatal” period, and it’s possible to experience depression at any time during the perinatal period. Postpartum depression refers to depression specifically after pregnancy.
Depression is the most common mental health condition experienced by new parents. If you already struggled with depression before getting pregnant, you’re more likely to experience it during and after pregnancy. BIPOC parents and those in low-income households are at even greater risk for postpartum depression.
Here are some signs to look out for:
Unlike the baby blues, postpartum depression doesn’t go away on its own. Finding the right support is crucial to your peace and overall wellness. Take some stress off your already tired (and probably spit-up stained!) shoulders by finding a qualified therapist to talk to.
While some anxiety is normal for pregnancy and bringing home a new bundle of joy, if it begins to affect your daily functioning or keeps you from enjoying this special time with your little one, that’s a sign something more is going on. Along with depression, perinatal anxiety is the most common mental health condition experienced by birthing parents.
Signs of perinatal anxiety:
The reality is, pregnancy can be hard on your mental health. It’s not all adorable Instagram photos or perfectly decorated nurseries. If you’re struggling with perinatal anxiety, all hope is not lost. It is treatable, and you’re not alone.
Maternal OCD is a specific type of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) that can occur during or after pregnancy. Like OCD, maternal OCD is characterized by repetitive intrusive thoughts and the repetitive behaviors you do to try to keep those thoughts at bay. With maternal OCD, those intrusive thoughts and behaviors are related to your baby.
Common signs of maternal OCD:
Maternal OCD is triggered by the specific stresses and responsibilities of motherhood/parenthood. Having maternal OCD does not make you a bad person or a bad parent. Voicing those thoughts takes away some of their power, and helps you feel less alone in what you’re dealing with. (You’d be surprised how many parents have experienced the same thing!) The right kind of support – whether that’s therapy, medication, or both – can help you regain control of your life and thoughts.
For parents with existing mental health conditions like Bipolar Disorder and PTSD, the hormone roller coaster of pregnancy (and often, medication adjustment) brings a fresh wave of fears and challenges. Living with mental health conditions doesn’t take away your ability to parent – it makes you human. A curated care team can help you show up for yourself and your baby, even when you feel like you’re (literally) losing your mind.
It’s important to know that experiencing any of these is not your fault. If you’re not feeling like yourself, the first step should be to reach out to your OB or midwife.
It’s no secret that maternal mental health is neglected in the U.S. We started Partum Health to change that, beginning with birthing parents right here in Chicago.
Every expecting and postpartum parent may benefit from establishing care. The USPSTF recommends that clinicians provide or refer pregnant and postpartum persons who are at increased risk of perinatal depression to counseling interventions. A preventative 15-minute intro call with a therapist can be helpful in identifying your needs.
If you need immediate help or are in a crisis, you can call the National Maternal Mental Health hotline any time at 1-833-TLC-MAMA (1-833-852-6262).
Postpartum doulas (along with their close cousins the night nanny, night nurse, and newborn care specialist) can make all the difference in your 4th trimester
September is baby safety month. We know this is a big topic. That is why we narrowed down a short list of suggested safety items you can tackle before your due date to ready your newborn’s arrival. For each item we’ve also compiled great outside resources to support your preparation.
After so many visits with your OB or midwife throughout pregnancy (12-14 visits on average), after giving birth most patients in the US will only see their provider one more time at their postpartum followup.