Most new mothers – up to 80 percent – experience at least a brief episode of the "baby blues" – feelings of sadness, anxiety, loneliness, or moodiness – within the first few days of giving birth. After a couple of weeks these symptoms typically disappear. However, when symptoms persist or deepen in intensity, they may be a sign of postpartum depression or another perinatal mood disorder. Perinatal mood disorders (PMD) include: anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorders and postpartum depression. The depression may be mild, moderate or severe.
PMD are serious but treatable. Having a PMD does not mean anything is wrong with a woman’s ability to be a mother. PMD affect one in every 8 to 10 women, but many people do not know the facts. Any woman who has recently had a baby, ended a pregnancy, or who has stopped breast-feeding, can be affected by PMD. The disorders usually occur within the first year after childbirth, miscarriage or stillbirth, but the signs of depression can also appear earlier – when a woman is pregnant, or even planning to be.
While the exact cause is unknown, contributing factors may be biological, psychological, or hormonal. Family members can play an important role by recognizing the warning signs of perinatal mood disorders, helping the woman seek help and providing support. The warning signs are different for everyone but may include:
Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
Changes in appetite
Feeling irritable, angry or nervous
Not enjoying life as much as in the past
Lack of interest in the baby
Lack of interest in friends and family
Lack of interest in sex
Feeling guilty or worthless
Feelings of being a bad mother
Hyper-vigilance (extreme concern about the baby’s care and/or health)
Thoughts of harming the baby or harming herself
Perinatal mood disorders cause distress and adversely affect daily functioning and personal relationships. If left untreated they can have long-term adverse effects on the woman and baby. Fortunately, perinatal mood disorders, even the most severe cases, are highly treatable, but as with many illnesses, the earlier that treatment can begin, the more effective it is. A woman’s OB/GYN, family physician and pediatrician can all be effective starting points for assessment and referral for treatment.
Women affected by perinatal mood disorders are fortunate to have numerous resources available to them. In this area, they can contact the Gateway Northwest Maternal and Child Health Network at 973-268-2280 or the Northern New Jersey Maternal/Child Health Care Consortium at 201-843-7400 for more information.
New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services provides a statewide perinatal mood disorder helpline (1-800-328-3838) 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer questions and provide information on available resources, as well as a comprehensive informational web site at (www.njspeakup.gov).