Understanding Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders (PMADs)

The transition to becoming a new mother is HARD – one which is certainly not talked about enough! If you have recently had a child and are experiencing a huge emotional rollercoaster, know that this is completely expected and common. Many mothers experience the baby blues, especially within the first few weeks postpartum.

This is normal and expected and is mostly the result of major hormonal shifts. There are times however when these or other symptoms persist, which are clinically referred to as Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders (PMADs). Women are more likely to develop depression & anxiety during the first year after childbirth and without treatment, PMADs can persist and cause significant disruption in a woman’s life.

PMADs can present in different forms of challenges, and informing yourself about them can be a good place to start in preventing and handling them. During the Postpartum period, an individual can experience clinical Depression, Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Bipolar, and Psychosis. For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on the first four – which are also the most common disorders.

Here are the typical ways symptoms can present in PMADs

Postpartum Depression

  • Feelings of anger or irritability
  • Lack of interest in the baby
  • Appetite and sleep disturbance
  • Crying and sadness Feelings of guilt, shame, or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest, joy or pleasure in things you used to enjoy
  • Possible thoughts of harming the baby or yourself

Postpartum Anxiety

  • Constant worry
  • Feeling that something bad is going to happen
  • Racing thoughts
  • Irritability
  • Disturbances of sleep & appetite
  • Inability to sit still
  • Physical symptoms like dizziness, hot flashes, & nausea

Postpartum PTSD

  • Intrusive re-experiencing of a past traumatic event (such as childbirth)
  • Flashbacks or nightmares
  • Avoidance of stimuli associated with the event, including thoughts, feelings, people, places & details of the event
  • Persistent increased arousal (irritability, difficulty sleeping, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response)
  • Anxiety & panic attacks
  • Feeling a sense of unreality & detachment

Postpartum OCD

  • Obsessions (intrusive thoughts): sometimes related to the baby
  • Compulsions: repetitive acts meant to reduce a mom’s anxieties Examples: needing to clean constantly, check things many times, count or reorder things
  • A sense of horror about the obsessions
  • Fear of being left alone with the baby
  • Hypervigilance in protecting the infant
  • Moms with postpartum OCD know that their thoughts are bizarre or unusual and are very unlikely to ever act on them

1 in 5 Women Experience a PMAD

While PMADs are common, you can protect your emotional and mental health as a new mother by considering the following:

  • Inform yourself of the symptoms and important warning signs
  • Build a postpartum support network
  • Practice healthy lifestyle habits (Good nutrition, regular exercise/movement, adequate sleep and rest, increasing amounts of time to yourself)
  • Notice your negative thoughts and learn to replace them with supportive thoughts (see our article on “Unhelpful Thinking Styles”)
  • Establish stress management strategies (e.g. yoga, deep-breathing, shortening daily to-do list, setting realistic goals, etc.)

Treatment for PMADs can be highly effective, especially with early intervention

If you are facing significant disturbances such as those listed above, or if you feel highly distressed and not quite yourself, we encourage you to look into next steps. Advocate for exploring your treatment options and consult with a mental health professional. PMADs are highly responsive with the right approach.

Want to know more? If your partner is experiencing a PMAD and you’re not quite sure where to start, check out our article, Supporting a partner suffering from Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder for some tips.

The Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Workbook

Take control of your postpartum mental health with some self-help tools! Access our Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Workbook, easy-to-read therapist-designed exercises, information, and techniques to help you manage your mental health. This is a roadmap to begin feeling more like yourself.

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