Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders is a term that describes the range of mental health conditions that mothers may experience from pregnancy through 1 year postpartum.  Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders includes Depression/Bipolar, Anxiety or Panic, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This discussion will focus on postpartum depression. Postpartum mood changes are on a spectrum that ranges from transient and common (baby blues) to serious and disabling (depression) to psychiatric emergency (psychosis).

Several risk factors have been identified for developing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders including personal and family history of mood or anxiety disorders, miscarriage, fertility treatments, thyroid issues, lack of sleep, Type A /perfectionist personality, relationship issues with partner or mother, unrealistic expectations for pregnancy, labor, delivery, motherhood, breastfeeding, work, lack of social supports, premature delivery, financial stress, and a fussy baby to name a few.

Postpartum Depression is diagnosed by a health professional (usually an OB or psychiatrist) when a mother has persistent issues with depressed mood, anhedonia, appetite and weight changes, sleep problems, psychomotor changes, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, excessive guilt or feelings of worthlessness, impaired concentration, suicidal ideation, and/or intrusive thoughts of harm to the infant. Pediatricians and family members may be the first to recognize the symptoms of depression.  Pediatricians, in particular, have frequent contact with the mother and child and can provide educational and referral support to families.

It is important to identify and treat postpartum depression because of the direct impact the mother’s mood has on the baby.  Depressed mothers are more likely to engage in unhealthy feeding and sleep routines with their infant.  Depressed mothers are also more likely to negatively affect their baby’s neurological development.  These babies may have developmental delays, increased crying, and impaired cognitive development.

It is imperative that mothers are treated for postpartum depression so they can function at a level necessary to support healthy outcomes for the newborn.  Treatment should include support groups, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. Most mothers with postpartum depression will benefit from a comprehensive approach to therapy, of which medication is one component.  Medication is for all mothers, those that are breastfeeding and those that are giving formula.

Motherhood is one of life’s greatest challenges.  Mother’s need a supportive environment that encourages them to access resources that help them thrive.  Postpartum Support Virginia is a wonderful resource for mothers and families.  Check out their website for additional information, www.postpartumVA.org.