While many women experience mild mood changes or “the blues” during or after the birth of a child, 1 in 5-to-7 women experience more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety. Also, 1-in-10 dads become depressed and anxious during the first year as well. If these feelings are lasting past the two-week mark, they are no longer just “the blues.”

The baby blues last no more than 2 days to 2 weeks, often due to the extreme hormone fluctuation at the time of the birth. Symptoms of the blues include crying or tearfulness, reactivity, feeling overwhelmed, and being uncertain or indecisive. Unlike depression, your predominate mood with the blues is happiness. This is the case in 50-80% of women. The main difference between depression and the blues is determined by severity, duration, and timing.

Parents’ unfulfilled hopes and dreams may cause unrealistic expectations about exactly what it will be like to be a parent. Some parents feel unprepared for the grief they feel when reality confronts the child of their imaginations. Parents of every age, cultural background, socio-economic status and race can get Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs). Symptoms can appear any time during pregnancy and the first year after childbirth.

There are luckily very effective and well-researched treatment options to help you or your loved one recover. If you or someone you know may be experiencing PMADs, you should speak with your doctor, seek mental health treatment, and a great free resource is the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS).

Although the term “postpartum depression” is often used, there are actually several overlapping illnesses, including:

Postpartum Depression Disorder

This can include feeling a lack of interest in the baby, irritability, guilt, shame, changes in eating and sleeping, anger, hopelessness, trouble concentrating, and sometimes thoughts of harming the baby or yourself.

Postpartum Stress Disorder

This is often caused by a traumatic birth and symptoms may include feelings of anxiety, flashbacks, and the need to avoid triggering things that remind the parent(s) of the actual incident.

Postpartum Anxiety Disorder

Some women experience extreme fears and worries, including for the health of themselves or of the baby, shortness of breath, panic attacks, dizziness, chest pain, tingling, numbness, or a feeling of losing control.

Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Sometimes women feel the need to do certain things over and over again to reduce anxiety caused by certain thoughts. This may include unwanted thoughts or mental images. These moms often find these thoughts unusual and scary. This can present itself with a parent who becomes obsessed with counting things such as ounces of milk, the number of dirty diapers, one who stares at the baby monitor, or repetitively checks to see if the baby is breathing, etc.

Postpartum Psychosis

This occurs when a new parent is seeing or hearing voices or is seeing images others cannot see. For example, a new mother experiencing psychosis may say, “God told me to do that to my baby.” A major distinction here to pay attention to is whether these thoughts are ego-dystonic or ego-syntonic. Ego-dystonic refers to thoughts or behaviors that are felt by the mother to be something they would never actually do, but the thought has just crossed their mind. Ego-syntonic refers to instincts or ideas where these is little-to-no guilt or shame associated. For example, when a mother says she wants to throw her baby out the window, it is important to find out if she actually wants to do this or the thought just crossed her mind and in reality, it saddens her. Other struggles may be feeling very energetic and therefore unable to sleep and believing things that are not true. This is a rare illness; however it can be dangerous, so it is important to seek help immediately if this seems to be happening.

If you or a loved one are experiencing PMADs or finding new parenthood difficult and challenging and would like some support, please connect with a therapist. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our skilled therapists today!