Moms + Mental Health
There’s a common misconception that pregnancy is great for all expecting mothers and their partners. While having a baby can be exciting, it can also be a major source of anxiety and stress. Along with physical changes, pregnancy can cause a range of emotional changes and mental health issues, too.
Antenatal Anxiety and Depression
According to PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia), up to 1 in 10 women and 1 in 20 men experience depression while expecting a baby. People often misattribute it to hormones, but it’s a serious condition with serious symptoms. While it manifests itself differently for everyone, common warning signs include feelings of hopelessness, lack of interest and/or energy, and having trouble concentrating or making decisions (often described as “brain fog”).
Postpartum depression affects women after they give birth. There’s no single cause, but it’s tied to a dramatic decrease in estrogen and progesterone levels in the mother’s body. This leads to chemical changes in the brain that trigger mood swings. On top of that, mothers also have trouble getting enough sleep. Sleep gives their bodies time to heal from childbirth, but with the demands of a new baby, it’s hard to get a full night’s rest. It’s important to note that postpartum depression is very different from the “baby blues.” Postpartum depression is extreme and interferes with a woman’s daily life. This condition requires treatment like therapy or antidepressant medications.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Several parents experience PTSD after their children have been in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (a hospital ward that provides intense care to ill or premature newborns). According to Dr. Richard J. Shaw, the author of a Stanford experiment which followed parents with NICU children, the trauma happens in layers, starting with the unexpected early delivery. The second trauma comes from watching both their infant and other infants going through intense medical treatments and other life-threatening events. The third stems from what seems to be a constant stream of bad news. PTSD can take many forms, but it often manifests itself in nightmares and flashbacks. It can also lead to insomnia, numbness and aggression, which can impair their abilities to be effective parents.
You are not alone. Mental health issues happen to several moms-to-be and their partners. If you or someone you know is experiencing pregnancy-related mental health concerns, don’t be afraid to seek help.