Did you know that perinatal mood and perinatal anxiety disorders are the number one complications of pregnancy? They affect women of any race, age, socioeconomic status, education level, and culture. Perinatal mood and perinatal anxiety disorders are also known as postpartum mood disorders or postnatal mood and anxiety disorders. They can occur any time during pregnancy and the postpartum period- from the time of conception all the way up to 2 years after birth.

What are perinatal mood and perinatal anxiety disorders?

Perinatal mood and perinatal anxiety disorders are mood disorders that occur in conjunction with pregnancy, childbirth, and/or the postpartum period after a baby is born. They are a result of the physical, psychological, and environmental changes that occur as a result of pregnancy and/or childbirth. Many women are familiar with postpartum depression, which is a subset of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and occurs after a baby is born, but many people do not know that prenatal mood and anxiety disorders are also very common for women. Perinatal mood disorders encompass both prenatal and postpartum mood disorders.

Postnatal Mood Disorder: My story

As a first-time mom, I had heard about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders from childbirth classes and briefly from my doctors. Also called postnatal mood disorder or postpartum mood disorder, I never had any real experience with depression or anxiety though (except the normal teenage angst). That's why after my daughter came it never really occurred to me that I would experience any type of postpartum depression or anxiety.

And honestly, it didn't even happen right away.

The first few months of my daughter's life were great. She was a happy baby that slept well and was eating great. I was enjoying being a new mom. But when she hit her four-month sleep regression (which also aligned with my husband's departure for Afghanistan for 6 months) the sleep deprivation kicked in. I found myself losing my temper with her lack of sleep but I thought what I was experiencing was normal- I was alone, across the country from my family with no help from anyone else. I was exhausted and a new mom just trying to figure it out.

I ended up powering through those 6 months on my own. And I never really gave a second thought to what I went through because I thought it was all circumstantial. It wasn't until the second and third baby that I realized that I had experienced postpartum depression.

After my second daughter was born, the same thing happened- things were great until she turned 4 months old. Once that sleep regression hit, I found myself getting frustrated and angry. Over everything. I started to have suicidal thoughts, with my husband having to take my keys away from me more than once because he felt I wasn't in my right mind to drive.

My third daughter was born only 14 months after my second daughter, so I never really got over the postpartum depression. It was kind of like I had postpartum and prenatal depression all mixed together. The result ended up being a postpartum depression and anxiety bomb that exploded after my youngest was born.

It wasn't until a few months after my third child was born that I really started to take this seriously. I found myself crying in the middle of parking lots. I wanted to run away. I was exhausted with every ounce of my being from mothering. I didn't want to parent. I didn't want to move. It felt like I was in a nightmare even though my brain would logically tell me that the dog walking across the hardwood floors was not something I should be falling onto the floor crying about.

What are the risk factors for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders?

Even though I didn't have any diagnosed experiences with depression or anxiety before I had children, I found out after my third child was born that my mother had. Genetics can play a large role in risk factors for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, especially if depression and/or anxiety is something you struggled with prior to getting pregnant. Some of the other risk factors include:

  • Dramatic changes in hormone levels during pregnancy and postpartum
  • Family history
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Changes in thyroid function
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Difficult pregnancy, labor, or birth
  • Colicky or difficult/demanding baby
  • Lack of support after the baby is born
  • Anxiety about postpartum leave and returning to work
  • Breastfeeding problems
  • Unrealistic expectations about pregnancy and postpartum
  • Certain personality traits like perfectionism and difficulty with routine changes

In looking back at my own story, I can see how I fit the bill for many of these risk factors. My hormone levels went crazy after childbirth, and it took me a while to regulate them. Sleep deprivation was a struggle. After my first baby, my husband was gone on deployment. For my second and third children, he was gone quite a bit because of his job. My second daughter was colicky and she had issues breastfeeding because of a tongue and lip tie. I also had extreme guilt of having to stop nursing because my supply dropped once I got pregnant with my third daughter after 6.5 months.

What are the different perinatal mood and anxiety disorders?

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are not just "depression" and "anxiety." There are several different disorders that perinatal disorders can encompass such as:

  • Baby blues- This is one of the most common mood disorders and often occurs because of the sudden change in hormone levels. It often resolves in 2 to 3 weeks without medical intervention
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder- PTSD often occurs as perinatal disorder as the result of a traumatic experience during pregnancy or childbirth such as an injury or an illness to the mother or child.
  • Psychosis- Postpartum psychosis is an extremely serious condition and it should be met with immediate medical attention
  • Partners can experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, too

Although the birth mother is often the one who experiences a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder it is important to note that fathers, partners, and even adoptive mothers or mothers who had their children via surrogacy can experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. The change in lifestyle coupled with a difficult baby, lack of support, lack of sleep, and other risk factors puts anyone in the family at risk for depression, anxiety, OCD, panic disorders, PTSD if trauma is experienced, or postpartum psychosis.

This is something that is important to keep in mind as we often think of only the person who has actually given birth as being diagnosed with a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. But everyone in the family experiences a huge change when a baby is brought home, and the change in lifestyle can cause a mood or anxiety disorder to rear its head, especially if someone in the family has experienced depression or anxiety previously

What to do if you are diagnosed with a postpartum mood disorder or anxiety disorder?

Treatment for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders will differ on the patient and the severeness of the disorder. Some of the most common ways to combat perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are:

  • Placenta encapsulation
  • Talk therapy
  • Exercise
  • Hydration
  • A solid support system to ensure that the caregiver is getting enough sleep, food, and hydration
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Inpatient therapy programs
  • Homeopathy
  • Conventional medication

Placenta encapsulation is one of the most natural ways to help combat perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. By encapsulating your placenta into pill form, you allow your body to slowly return to its natural hormonal state after giving birth rather than having a rapid change in hormones. This allows your body and your hormones to regulate slowly thereby giving your body less of a shock. Many new moms swear by this technique.

The most important thing you can do for yourself, your baby, or anyone you know experiencing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders is to acknowledge it. Understand that these are real mood and anxiety disorders and they are the most common complication of pregnancy and childbirth. Many, many people to include birth mothers, partners, fathers, and adoptive or mothers via surrogacy experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. It's not uncommon- it's just not talked about all that often.

Another thing that is not discussed very often is that postnatal mood disorders don't just happen during pregnancy or right after a baby is born. Some moms experience mood disorders well after the normal "postpartum" period. This is sometimes in correlation with weaning as your body's hormones change once again. Falling into a depression or anxiety disorder after weaning your baby from breastfeeding is very common and is still considered a perinatal mood disorder if you within 2 years of giving birth.

If you have a history of depression and anxiety, either for yourself or a family history of either disorder, it is important to disclose that to your doula, midwife, or doctor so they can look for signs of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Do not be afraid to ask for help during pregnancy or after pregnancy.

Image: Jelena Stanojkovic/Shutterstock