Perinatal Mental Health for pregnant and postpartum moms

Supporting Pregnant and Postpartum Moms: Mental Health Matters

Far too many moms struggle silently with anxiety or depression during pregnancy or following childbirth. In fact, perinatal mental illness is the Number 1 health complication related to pregnancy and delivery. Early identification and appropriate treatment of these conditions are essential to supporting pregnant and postpartum moms.

What is Perinatal Mental Health and Why is it Important?

The perinatal period is often defined as the time from conception to one year after childbirth. Throughout pregnancy and postpartum, women are particularly vulnerable to anxiety and depression due to significant physical and emotional changes. Hormonal fluctuations, sleep deprivation, physical recovery and demands of caring for a newborn can affect mental health.

This is particularly true if there was past infant loss, miscarriage, infertility, difficult pregnancy, traumatic birth, poor social support or a history of anxiety/depression.

Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) refer to a variety of mental health conditions that can emerge during or after pregnancy. Approximately one in five women will experience a mental health complication. Untreated anxiety and depression can result in significant negative consequences for parents and infants. Birth outcomes, child development and parent-child attachment can all be affected.

However, PMADS are common and treatable. Support is available, with options for treatment and providers who can provide effective support during pregnancy and postpartum.

Recognizing Signs and Symptoms

Of course, some anxiety and mood change can be expected; babies are a big adjustment! It is common to feel overwhelmed, sad or anxious. Positive social support, healthy relationships and self-care (good nutrition, sleep and physical activity) are important for wellbeing during this time. Persistent symptoms lasting beyond a couple of weeks—often called “the baby blues”—might require formal support.

Withdrawing or avoiding previously enjoyed social situations and interactions, continued feelings of sadness or hopelessness, excessive worry or anxiety, significant changes in sleep or appetite, thoughts of self-harm or challenges in bonding could indicate a PMAD. Symptoms can start weeks or months postpartum. It’s important to seek treatment when symptoms cause distress or interfere with daily functioning.

Symptoms of Perinatal Anxiety:

Panic attacks, hyperventilation, excessive worry, restless sleep and repeated thoughts or images of frightening things happening to the baby.

Symptoms of Depression in Pregnancy and After Pregnancy:

  • Feeling sad, depressed, frequent crying
  • Mood swings
  • Diminished interest in becoming a mother
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, incompetence
  • Sleep problems
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Low energy
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Trouble focusing, remembering things or making decisions
  • Feeling restless or irritable
  • Excessive anxiety, tension and/or fear
  • Headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations or hyperventilation

Where Can I (or Someone I Care About) Get Support and Help?

Only 15% of women who suffer from anxiety or depression during the perinatal period get the support they need. Being proactive and getting early support is crucial. Talk with your doctor or a trained therapist. There are effective options for treatment and for providers who can support you. Taking care of yourself is taking care of your baby.

Find a Maternal Mental Health Therapist in Florida through Florida’s Maternal Behavioral Health and Social Services Resource Directory:

*Presented by Florida Department of Health | Originally published in the May 2024 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.