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Becoming a new mother can be tough emotionally and can sometimes feel overwhelming or lonely. From time to time, these sad or uncomfortable feelings can linger and develop into a clinically diagnosable disorder.

“In many countries, as many as 1 in 5 new mothers experience some type of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs),” according to the World Maternal Mental Health Day campaign.

If these mothers don’t receive proper treatment, it can result in long-term consequences for the mother and/or the child. One of the best ways to combat this is by bringing awareness to maternal mental health and talking about it in everyday conversation.

Most commonly seen PMADs: 

Perinatal Depression is depression that can occur while pregnant or after you’ve had your baby. This might look like: 

  • Crying all the time
  • Feeling very sad, emotionally empty, or numb
  • Having difficulty feeling bonded or attached to your baby
  • Not enjoying things that usually bring you joy
  • Having trouble focusing, remembering things, or making decisions
  • Having an abnormal appetite
  • Feeling very fatigued or talking/moving much slower than usual
  • Feeling irritable with people or pets around you 

Perinatal Anxiety is anxiety that can occur while pregnant or after you’ve had your baby. This might look like:

  • Feeling panic or having anxious thoughts frequently
  • Feeling as if something awful might happen
  • Trouble sleeping, even when your baby is sleeping
  • Having an abnormal appetite
  • Feeling restless or more fidgety than usual
  • Feeling irritable with people or pets around you 
  • Having trouble concentrating, remembering things, or making decisions

Perinatal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is obsessive thoughts or compulsions that can occur while pregnant or after you’ve had your baby. This might look like:

  • Feeling intense fear of germs harming your baby
  • Feeling worried that you might accidentally or deliberately harm your baby
  • Feeling as if you need to do everything perfectly for your baby or something bad might happen
  • Repeatedly checking to see if your baby is still breathing/alive
  • Repeatedly washing or cleaning baby’s things to assure they are clean

Postpartum Psychosis looks like having delusional thoughts or hallucinations. This could also look like paranoia or confusion about what is real or not. This is a true medical emergency and needs immediate attention. This almost always requires medication and a possible hospitalization stay to recover from. 

Postpartum Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) usually follows a traumatic birth or a longer-than-normal hospital stay for the mom or baby. This may look like flashbacks of the traumatic experience or having nightmares about it. You may experience overwhelming feelings when thinking about the experience. This can be processed and worked through with a trauma-informed therapist.

If you are having any thoughts about hurting yourself or your baby, please place your baby in a safe place and call your partner, trusted friend or family member, or your medical provider immediately. See the resources section at the bottom of this post for more information.

*Disclosure: Just because you are experiencing some of the symptoms listed above, that does not mean you are diagnosed with one of these disorders. This article does not take the place of medical advice. Please consult your trusted medical or perinatal mental health provider. 

How do I know that I am experiencing a perinatal mental health issue?

When considering what signs or symptoms to look for, it is important to talk with a specialist. Dr. Sarah Dunn, an OB/GYN at Capital Region Medical Center shared that she prefers to see her patients approximately two weeks after they’ve given birth to check for any signs of PMADs or other postpartum issues. During that visit, Dr. Dunn and her nursing staff use screening tools to assess these issues. She checks for any safety concerns and talks with the parents about how they have been adjusting to having a new baby at home. Dr. Dunn says, “The first two weeks are the hardest after having a baby.” She wants her patients to feel taken care of during that time. If patients report they are having any trouble, she assesses for possible medication options, provides a referral to a therapist who is trained in perinatal mental health, and likes to have her nurse follow up within a week or so to check in on them. Dr. Dunn shared that while some providers prefer to wait to see patients six to eight weeks postpartum, patients worried about the above challenges should reach out to schedule a time to see their provider sooner to address those concerns.

From a therapist’s perspective, who specializes in perinatal mental health, it is important to see clients at approximately two weeks postpartum — whether that is virtual or in person. Together, they can talk about how they are adjusting, feeling, and how their birth went. This is a crucial time for clinicians to assess if there are any budding issues to pay attention to and for new moms to process some of the common stressors of early motherhood. At Rooted Revival Counseling and Wellness, the mother is invited to bring her baby to the session, if she is comfortable, so she doesn’t have to worry about finding childcare or stress about spending time away from the baby.

Tips to get through the postpartum period:

Allow time to bond with your baby by holding your baby skin to skin. Also, try snuggling, talking, and singing to your baby. 

Practice taking care of yourself in little ways: 

  • Doing something small that brings you joy
  • Nourishing your body with sustenance 
  • Resting your body when you can
  • Getting outside — even just for 10 minutes each day
  • Asking for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed or accepting help when offered if you desire 

How can family and friends help a new mom?

  • Check in with them to ask how they are doing in addition to the baby. Allow room for them to share how they are feeling and validate what they are feeling.
    • “I know this might be a tough time for you. Your feelings are valid and real. I am here for you. What can I do to help you through this?” 
  • Bring food to them or send food to their home.
    • Consider just dropping the food off rather than expecting a longer visit as it can be daunting or overwhelming for a new mom to entertain.
  • Pick up a grocery order for them so they don’t have to get the baby out of the house. 
  • Offer to do their laundry or pick up their house for them.
  • Help with older children. Sometimes, they get forgotten about in this new season of life.

Dr. Dunn talked about worrisome signs that partners or family members can look for in new moms. “Some signs are tearfulness, they aren’t able to physically take care of their baby or themselves, and not eating.” Dr. Dunn says these are some concerning things that she has seen in her practice over the years. She also says that their partners will say, “She’s just not herself.” These would be signs that you should help this new mom find someone who could help her through this time. 

Breastfeeding also plays a part in perinatal mental health.

For those that choose to breastfeed, it is important to know how that journey plays into your mental health. Becky Weider, a nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant helps women through their breastfeeding journey at Whaley’s Mommy & Me. Becky suggests that if you are breastfeeding, it can be helpful to see a lactation consultant within a few days of postpartum to assess for any feeding issues and to assess how you are feeling as your milk is coming in. She suggests that nursing on demand and looking at your baby while nursing them are other helpful ways to bond with your baby and combat those overwhelming feelings through releasing happy hormones, such as oxytocin. 

Becky suggests, “Watch your baby’s cues rather than watching the clock to reduce stress while breastfeeding as long as your baby is meeting their milestones.” It is easy to get caught up in counting the minutes, which can increase anxiety unnecessarily. Becky had another great suggestion about putting your phone down and not comparing yourself to other parents on social media. She says she gives this advice to her patients, “Know your journey is your own journey — everybody’s journey is different.” 

“Watch your baby’s cues rather than watching the clock to reduce stress while breastfeeding as long as your baby is meeting their milestones.”

Becky Weider, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant

If you find that you are needing more help than this blog post provided, please know there are other options for you. See a therapist who specializes in perinatal mental health. It is important to see someone who has training or certification in the issues you are experiencing. You can also reach out to your OB/GYN to let them know what you are experiencing. Even if you think it might be typical for postpartum, they might have some resources to help with what you are going through.

Miranda Backes, M.Ed., LPC

Miranda is a licensed professional counselor at Rooted Revival Counseling and Wellness in Jefferson City who specializes in working with prenatal and postpartum women, along with those walking through infertility. She has extensive training through Postpartum Support International as well as through the American Society of Reproductive Medicine

Miranda is a Jefferson City native now living in Osage County with her husband, two young sons, and their Yorkie.

Additional Resources:

Postpartum Support International offers resources to women all over the country. Their slogan is “You are not alone and you are not to blame. Help is available. You will get better.”

Postpartum Helpline: 1.800.944.4773 (4PPD) — call or text