Postpartum Anxiety – More Common Than We Thought

Have you seen this: A new study in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine found that postpartum anxiety and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder are more common than once thought.  The researchers found 11% of new moms have OCD symptoms (including fear of germs, preoccupation with the safety of the baby, etc) after childbirth.  They found half of the new moms will get better by six months, and there is an additional 5.4% that will develop new onset symptoms at 6 months.DSC02075

A different study, this one in the American Journal of Pediatrics, found postpartum anxiety to be more common than postpartum depression, at least through the first 6 weeks after the baby is born.  The researchers found that 17% of the moms in the study experienced anxiety after giving birth.

The health care folks – together with the media – have done a super job educating the public about the warning signs and risks of postpartum depression in the last decade.  Brooke Shields and other celebrities have shared their struggles with postpartum depression, and have helped millions of women understand that the condition is common and quite treatable.

But in my experience, not all women who struggle after childbirth struggle with symptoms of depression – but symptoms of anxiety.  Extreme fear for the safety of the baby, inability to stop worrying about the baby’s well-being (even to the point of not being able to sleep), fear of germs or illness in the baby or other family members – these, and other symptoms of anxiety – can impede a new moms ability to care for herself, the baby, and/or other children.

A psychologically healthy mom’s ability to worry is endless.  A mom who struggles with postpartum anxiety can be debilitated.  And a mom crippled with anxiety and worry can struggle to meet her new baby’s needs.

Luckily, there are many places to turn for support and treatment.  Ob/Gyn’s and pediatricians are great professionals to turn to for medication management and community resources.  Psychologists can provide individual and family therapy to new moms.  Online support groups like Postpartum Support International can also offer resources and guidance.  For more information about the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression – including how to get help – check out the American Psychological Association.




Depression, Pregnancy, and Psychotherapy

A  study in the journal Human Reproduction recently concluded the following:

Antidepressant use during pregnancy is associated with increased risks of miscarriage, birth defects, preterm birth, newborn behavioral syndrome, persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn and possible longer term neurobehavioral effects. There is no evidence of improved pregnancy outcomes with antidepressant use.

This is an important study for several reasons:

  • Pregnant moms who are depressed can be at risk for not taking care of themselves or their unborn baby (not eating well, not taking prenatal vitamins, not going to OB visits).
  • Moms whose depression is not well managed during pregnancy are at a greater risk of developing postpartum depression
  • Moms who are depressed risk other physical and mental health problems
  • As most families know, mom’s mental health and mood has an impact on everyone else in the family

So what do the results of this study really tell us?  Antidepressant use during pregnancy needs to be evaluated carefully.  But to me (as a psychologist, of course) the more important conclusion of this study is this statement right here:

There is some evidence that psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy as well as physical exercise, is associated with significant decreases in depressive symptoms in the general population; research indicates that some forms of counseling are effective in treating depressive symptoms in infertile women.

In fact, psychotherapy can be highly effective for many mood disorders, including for depression before, during, after pregnancy.  This is great news because, unlike medication, psychotherapy has few (some would say zero) side effects.  An effective and safe treatment option for moms and their families – now that is an important conclusion.

Fore more information about finding and visiting a psychologist, go here.



New Baby and Post Partum Depression

I’m still here! Though it’s been a while since I have posted (2 weeks I think?) I am still around – just with an extra family member to care for. I’m happy to announce the birth of my beautiful son! Crazy! I never thought I would have a boy as we’ve only had girls in the family for as long as anyone can remember. I am so excited to learn all about boys and the challenges that come along with parenting them! (hints and tips welcome!)

As I get to know my new baby, deal with a post-pregnancy body, and continue to care for my other two children, I have been thinking a lot about moms who are affected by postpartum depression.  It’s such a serious and prevalent disorder, and one that can be hard to treat – often because moms don’t let providers, loved ones, or other support systems know they are struggling.  Some moms might feel embarrassed or ashamed to admit that welcoming a new baby is anything less than a wonderful experience.  But it can be hard – super hard – what with the crazy hormones, change in family dynamics, lack of sleep, pain from childbirth, trouble with feeding, etc.

I found this helpful article from the Mayo Clinic about postpartum depression – including warning signs and when to seek help:

Postpartum Depression: Signs & Treatment