For many women, pregnancy is a time of connection to their bodies and the many miracles they perform in growing and nurturing the human(s) inside them. Sometimes, however, perinatal anxieties and/or depression can be overwhelming and all consuming, making it harder for you to appreciate your nine months of pregnancy as an uplifting and memorable time and instead leaving you struggling emotionally and mentally.
What are some common causes for anxiety or depression during pregnancy?
Anxiety during pregnancy is a normal and expected phenomenon, especially for new moms, since it’s a time of significant emotional, hormonal, physical, psychological and financial change, and it can be nerve wracking to prepare for the future with limited knowledge about what’s to come. In addition to worries about the reality of having a baby around, you may also feel concerned about your baby’s current health and be hyper-aware of your diet and activities so as not to contribute to any health problems for you or your baby. Some women also struggle with the physical changes to their body shape and size, finding it hard to accept the various changes that come with being pregnant.
Some other challenges you may experience are less related to pregnancy itself, and more a result of navigating circumstances at home, work, or in social environments where you may feel misunderstood or hesitant to express your needs and emotions. For example:
- As a pregnant woman who may be experiencing fatigue, various aches and pains, nausea, abnormal cravings or aversions to certain foods and smells, you can find yourself feeling less motivated, more irritable or more reliant on help from others. And while you’re entitled to voice all of your needs, thoughts and feelings, you may feel concerned about burdening your spouse, friends or family with pregnancy woes and worries.
- At work, you may worry about how being pregnant or sharing the news of your pregnancy will impact your status, performance, or potential for growth.
- Socially, you may feel concerned that your needs for rest or a slower pace while pregnant (especially if experiencing a more difficult pregnancy) will create distance from your peers.
What are perinatal anxiety and depression?
Perinatal anxiety or depression is when a woman experiences symptoms of anxiety or depression during pregnancy to the point where her normal daily functioning is impaired. It can be difficult to distinguish between normal amounts of anxiety or depression and that which would characterize a disorder, which if left untreated may spiral into more severe mental health issues. Therefore it’s important to stay in tune with your emotions and internal experience during pregnancy so you can provide the best overall care for yourself and your baby.
How do I know if I’m experiencing perinatal anxiety and/or depression?
If you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms in an extreme or unusual manner, you may be suffering from perinatal anxiety or depression:
- Constant worry or stress
- Extreme irritability, anger, or sadness
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty sleeping
- Repeated thoughts of potential disasters that could happen to you or to your baby
- Panic attacks
- Sense of being “foggy,” numb, or disinterested in fun activities
Who is at higher risk of developing perinatal anxiety or depression?
Women who have a history of anxiety or depression, or who have had traumatic experiences with pregnancy or labor in the past including miscarriage or preterm labor may be at higher risk for perinatal anxiety or depression. Relationship problems, stress at work, financial hardship, or unplanned pregnancies can also exacerbate anxiety or put women at higher risk for these issues during their pregnancies.
Once you’ve made it through your pregnancy and surmounted all of its emotional and physical challenges, you may be elated and incredibly relieved when those labor pains start to kick in. But if your baby is born healthy and you find yourself feeling sadness, meaninglessness or an aversion to your baby rather than happiness or gratitude, you may be experiencing the “baby blues.” If your symptoms grow worse or become severe, you may be suffering from post-partum depression, and treatment is important for helping to ensure your own and your baby’s well-being.
How do I know if my baby blues are normal or if I might have post-partum depression?
Baby blues are a common phenomenon, characterized by a temporary period of overall sadness after giving birth. These feelings are mainly due to the changes in your body, hormones, and lifestyle after nine months of pregnancy. Relating to your now tangible, needy and very real baby feels different than it did with the mystery and excitement you experienced while carrying baby inside. During the first few weeks after giving birth (or even a few weeks later) you may find yourself swinging between elation and moodiness, feeling overwhelmed or confident, feeling sadness while breastfeeding or caring for your baby, as well as experiencing a low sex drive, all symptoms which will be temporarily uncomfortable but will eventually fade.
If symptoms do not fade, but instead get worse, you may be developing postpartum depression. Postpartum depression only affects about 15% of women and can begin during pregnancy, at delivery, or even much later. Some symptoms to look out for include:
- Sleep problems
- Eating issues
- Constant feelings of sadness, helplessness, hopelessness
- Social withdrawal or Loneliness
- Persistent worry
- Feelings of not wanting to take care of yourself or baby/aversion to baby
- Memory loss
Some women may also experience the following conditions postpartum for which they should seek prompt professional help:
- Postpartum anxiety disorder – severe anxiety or fear about new baby’s health manifested in panic attacks, shakiness, palpitations, or restlessness
- Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (PPOCD) – compulsively checking on baby in timed intervals or doing other tasks in a structured and timed way out of fear that not doing so will harm baby, and/or obsessive cleaning or thoughts about harming baby which are usually not acted upon
- Postpartum Psychosis – experiencing hallucinations or delusions and adopting an overall mental state which can pose real risks of hurting your baby or becoming suicidal
- Postpartum Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P-PTSD) – having flashbacks or nightmares of a traumatic birth, such as emergency deliveries or complications during delivery or births where you lacked support
When should I seek treatment?
If your baby blues symptoms don’t improve for over 2 weeks and your symptoms are either unbearable or interfering with your daily functioning, it may be time to seek professional help. While more severe presentations may require medical intervention or medication, most cases of post-partum depression can be treated with psychological counseling.
At Long Island Psychology, we are dedicated to:
- Providing a warm, understanding, and non-judgmental environment where you can express your feelings about your new baby and/or your fears and reservations about parenting
- Lending support and guidance throughout your process of figuring out how to best take care of your baby while also taking care of your own emotional and physical health
- Creating an empowering space where you can analyze, understand and come to accept your feelings as consequences of past experiences and/or underlying thoughts
- Identifying other factors that may be interfering with your mental health in order to be better able to cope with the stress and anxiety as you navigate your new role/responsibilities
- Assisting you in paving paths of communication between you and your partner, so that you can ask for what you need and be a stronghold for one another as you continue to go through the journey of nurturing a family
To learn more or to speak with one of our psychologists today, call 516-274-7876 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about our Garden City and Rockville Centre, NY locations, please visit our contact us page.