13 Jan

6 Things You Should Know About Postpartum Mental Health

The postpartum period is known to be a period of significant adjustments – new baby, new family dynamics, new routines. New parents expect sleep deprivation, hormonal changes, and loss of leisure time. But when is too much, simply too much? Read on to learn more about postpartum mental health. 


Baby blues affect up to 80% of postpartum women.

The “Baby blues” can start within 1 week after delivery. Doctors attribute the initial symptoms to substantial physiological changes in the mother. Nevertheless, the symptoms can be distressing and include frequent tearfulness, mood swings, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, and difficulty sleeping. It is different than a diagnosable mood disorder in that the symptoms generally resolve within 2-3 weeks and typically does not negatively affect everyday functioning or bonding with the infant.


“Mommy Brain” is a myth!

If you are finding yourself more disorganized or more forgetful than usual, you might be tempted to blame it on “Mommy brain.” But did you know there is no clear research showing that pregnancy – or postpartum – causes cognitive decline? These difficulties may seem new, but they likely stem from the huge learning curve of being a new parent, sleep deprivation, and extreme multitasking. Let’s face it, calculating naps and feedings can begin to feel like a complex math problem! If the baby slept for 10 hours at night, took a 1 hour nap, and needs to eat every 2.5-3 hours, what time will Train A reach the station?


Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) are the most common complication of pregnancy.

Affecting up to 20% of postpartum women, PMADs are more common than gestational diabetes, preterm labor, or low birth weight! PMADs refer to a cluster of diagnosable mental health disorders with onset around the perinatal period (which includes pregnancy and postpartum). PMADs can manifest as depression (similar to Major Depressive Disorder), anxiety (similar to Generalized Anxiety Disorder), obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder (such as panic attacks), and trauma symptoms (similar to PTSD). Individuals with prior histories of mental health disorders are at greater risk for developing symptoms during the perinatal period.


New dads are also at risk for “daddy blues” and paternal postnatal depression (PPND).  

Remember sympathy pregnancy symptoms? “Daddy blues” and paternal postnatal depression can result from hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, and acute stress. “Daddy blues” symptoms include feeling down, labile mood, or difficulty tolerating a crying baby. More severe symptoms such as social withdrawal, avoidance, or increased risky behaviors (i.e., substance use) may signal a diagnosable mood disorder. Between 4-25% of new fathers experience depression in the first year and 50% of fathers experience paternal depression when mothers struggle with postpartum depression. Yet fewer than 50% of men receive treatment.  


Perfectionistic and introverted individuals are at greater risk for PMADs.

Individuals who exhibit perfectionistic traits tend to value order, control, efficiency, and productivity. They may avoid taking on projects unless they can be certain they will not fail. While these qualities may look fantastic on a resume – babies are less than impressed. As many new moms know, babies are ever-changing, inefficient communicators who do not care much for order or productivity. In a similar vein, introverts may find the postpartum period difficult because the demands of baby caring leave little time for self-care. At minimum, parenthood challenges one’s tolerance for failure – and one’s willingness to ask for help. 


PMADs are treatable! 

The symptoms associated with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are highly responsive to treatment. “Treatment” may vary depending on the individual, but it can include a variety of practices such as talk therapy, increasing self-care, exercise, improving sleep and nutrition, increasing social support, spiritual practices, or medication. It is always recommended that when individual efforts (like exercise, self-care, etc.) are not enough, it may be time to consult with a trusted professional (primary care doctor, OB/GYN, pediatrician). Talking with a therapist who understands perinatal mood and anxiety disorders is also a great place to start.

Next Steps

If you or a loved one are facing postpartum or perinatal mental health struggles, counselors like Dr. Amy King, PsyD can help.  If you would like to request an appointment with Dr. King or any of our counselors, please click here or call (720) 489-8555.


Women's Health

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