Postpartum depression is a common complication of childbirth, affecting up to 15 percent of new mothers. Symptoms of postpartum depression can include feeling sad, anxious, or empty; feeling guilty, hopeless, or worthless; having trouble sleeping, eating, or concentrating; or experiencing angry outbursts and mood swings.
However, postpartum depression is not the only mood disorder affecting new mothers. Other perinatal/postpartum mood disorders can occur during pregnancy or after childbirth. They are as follows:
Anxiety is a common symptom during pregnancy, and for some people, it can become more severe during pregnancy or postpartum. Anxiety symptoms may include restlessness or “on edge,” fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and sleep disturbances.
Perinatal anxiety could be centered around fear of childbirth, adjusting to motherhood, excessive worry about the health and safety of the baby, or financial stressors, to name a few. Anxiety can make taking care of yourself and your baby difficult and may interfere with mother-child bonding.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is a mental illness characterized by intrusive, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Perinatal OCD can develop during pregnancy or after childbirth and can be triggered by the stress of caring for a new baby.
Symptoms of OCD can include intrusive thoughts about harm coming to your baby, and compulsive behaviors such as excessive cleaning or checking on your baby. It’s estimated that between 1.7 and 4 percent of women have their OCD onset after childbirth.
Like other perinatal mood disorders, OCD can make caring for yourself and your baby challenging and may interfere with the bonding process.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a mental illness that can develop after exposure to a traumatic or life-threatening event. For some women, the experience of childbirth can be traumatizing and can lead to the development of PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, irritability, and avoidance of people or situations that remind you of the trauma. People with postpartum PTSD may avoid or delay getting pregnant again or may choose a different delivery method if they do get pregnant again.
Postpartum psychosis is a rare but serious mental illness that can develop a few weeks after childbirth. It is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, manic or depressed mood, and erratic behavior. Postpartum psychosis can lead to suicide or infanticide and requires immediate medical treatment.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme and often erratic mood swings. These mood swings can include periods of mania, where you feel an elevated mood and increased energy, and periods of depression, characterized by low mood and decreased energy levels.
For mothers with mild undiagnosed bipolar II disorder, the stress and drastic changes associated with childbirth can cause symptoms to become more pronounced. This can lead to sleep disturbance, irritability, and reckless behavior.
Certain risk factors can make new mothers more susceptible to developing perinatal mood disorders. These include:
- A history of depression or anxiety
- A family history of depression or anxiety
- Stressful experiences or complications during pregnancy or childbirth
- Lack of social support
- Stressful life events
- High-risk pregnancy
- Depression or anxiety during pregnancy
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Sleep deprivation
If you have any of the above risk factors, it does not definitively mean that you will develop a perinatal mood disorder. However, it is crucial to be aware of the risk factors and seek help if you are experiencing any symptoms.
While having a baby is an amazing experience for most people, it can also come with various challenges, including mood disorders like postpartum depression and anxiety. It’s essential to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and psychologically and take the necessary steps to get help if you’re struggling to keep up with the challenges of parenthood.