For the mother of a newborn child, the first few months can be a time of mother-infant bonding, celebrations with family, decorating the new nursery, and enjoying the unexpected delights of motherhood. But for up to 20% of pregnant women and new mothers, it can be a time of fear, anxiety, depression, and confusion.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, postpartum depression is the most under-diagnosed complication of pregnancy and childbirth. Some type of maternal mental health disorder may affect as many as 20% of all child-bearing women. The problem of postpartum depression was most recently highlighted in the barrage of news stories about a pregnant mom who drove her minivan into the ocean in Florida, along with her three young children. According to individuals who knew her, the young woman had been talking about demons before the incident occurred. It is suspected she may have a rare type of postpartum psychosis.
In a recent article, the executive director of Postpartum Support International (PSI), spoke out about the problem. Wendy Davis, Ph.D., who is also the vice chair of the National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health, stated: “Ideally, all mother would be screened during pregnancy and the postpartum period for emotional complications, and suffering mothers would receive treatment in a timely fashion to avoid these potential tragedies.”
Davis’ organization, PSI, is a maternal mental health organization that provides education and support for both parents and clinicians. Board member Chris Raines, who is a nurse, has noted the benefits to families. “The opportunity for a suffering mother or family member to talk with someone who is knowledgeable about maternal mental health is very healing, and discussing maternal mental health helps everyone to normalize this disorder as a common complication of pregnancy,” she explained.
Experiencing a few days of the “baby blues” is not unusual for most new mothers, but intense or prolonged symptoms may point to something more serious. If an individual experiences five or more of the following symptoms for more than two weeks, she may be dealing with postpartum depression:
- Depressed mood or feelings of hopelessness, frequent tearfulness, or feelings of emptiness;
- Loss of interest in daily activities;
- Changes in appetite and weight;
- Sleep disturbance, even when baby is sleeping;
- Changes in activity level; e.g., more restless or sluggish;
- Extreme fatigue;
- Feelings of guilt of worthlessness;
- Difficulty with concentration;
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
Mental health professionals know that the time to address the problem of postpartum mental health is not just when a news headline brings concern or anger. Increasing public awareness about a common problem can lead to better outcomes for young families.
If you or someone you know is experiencing prolonged feelings of depression, anxiety, or confusion after the birth of a child, don’t be afraid to seek help. With proper treatment, which can include counseling and short-term medication, motherhood can again be something to cherish rather than to fear.