This month, medical and mental health experts on the United States Preventive Services Task Force, a government-appointed health panel, emphasized the importance of screening women for depression both during pregnancy and after giving birth.
After having a baby, most women experience some form of the “baby blues,” the normal hormonal adjustment period that usually resolves naturally in the first 2-3 weeks after delivery.
However, 1 out of 7 expectant and new mothers also suffer symptoms of depression, anxiety, intrusive repetitive thoughts, panic or post-traumatic stress, according to Postpartum Support International (PSI), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, which include postpartum depression.
Here are a few facts about these disorders:
- They exist in women of every culture, age, income level, and ethnicity and affect more than 800,000 women every year in the United States.
- Symptoms, which result from a combination of biological, social, and cultural stressors, can develop during pregnancy or anytime in the first year after childbirth and bear a special stigma that make it difficult to get care.
- Women may have feelings of anger, fear and/or guilt, lack of interest in the baby, appetite and sleep disturbance, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and possible thoughts of harming the baby or themselves.
- The whole family unit can be affected. The mother’s partner may feel overwhelmed, confused, angry, and concerned that she will never recover. The couple’s relationship can also experience strain.
Maternal mental health matters for the well-being of the whole family! Screening and early intervention are essential. While medication has often been the go-to option to treat many perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, some studies strongly recommend psychotherapy as the first-line treatment.
Treatment plans vary but usually involve several of the components from the list below:
- Self-care, which includes proper rest, good nutrition, assistance with baby and other children, and care for personal needs such as exercise, relaxation, or time with partner/spouse
- Social support, which includes talking with others — either on the telephone, online, or at a support group — who understand and provide encouragement
- Individual or group psychotherapy with a mental health counselor who understands perinatal mood and anxiety disorders
- Medications to treat symptoms, when recommended by a healthcare provider
If you are pregnant or have a young baby and need support, contact one of our experienced therapists in the metro DC area for guidance about counseling options.
Here are some additional resources from PSI: