What You Need to Know about Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders

By Dawn Leprich-Graves

What You Need to Know about Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders

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Do you know seven moms? One of them has struggled with a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder.

Do you know three moms of color? One of them has struggled with a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder.

Do you know ten dads? One of them has struggled with a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder.

These statistics should be concerning to you.

Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders are the most common complication of pregnancy and childbirth, affecting 20-25% of women and their partners. Many times, I’ll hear people say “Oh, I heard she had postpartum.” Each time, I cringe as I internally think, “OF COURSE she did! Postpartum is a period after the birth of a child, NOT a descriptor of her emotional and psychological experience after the birth of that child!!” Everyone experiences “postpartum,” but for some women, it’s a much darker, more difficult transition to motherhood than others.

There are many different types of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and manifestations of those disorders. Here’s a quick run down of different mental health challenges that women (and partners!) can face during pregnancy and/or postpartum:

  • Depression– feelings of sadness, anger, guild, irritability, lack of interest/connection to the baby, hopelessness, inability to sleep, and difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety– intense worries and fears, hyper-focus on certain aspects of the baby/baby care, even panic attacks
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder– recurring, upsetting, unwanted thoughts or images and behaviors/activities that need to be done to reduce the anxiety caused by the thoughts and images
  • Bipolar Mood Disorders– experience symptoms of depression and periods of elevated mood, increased energy, risky behavior
  • Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – occurs after a frightening or traumatic birth experience, often causing flashbacks, anxiety, and fears
  • Postpartum Psychosis – may see or hear things that aren’t there, believe things to be true that aren’t, paranoid and suspicious of those around her, and experience rapid mood swings. Postpartum Psychosis is the most rare condition of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, but is the most sensationalized by the media. Postpartum Psychosis is a medical emergency and anyone experiencing it should seek immediate medical attention.

For additional information regarding these disorders as well as resources for recovering, please visit the Postpartum Support International (PSI) web site:


Perinatal mental health struggles not only impact the well-being of the struggling mother or partner, but also the infant and family unit as a whole. While perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are incredibly challenging, the best news is that they are temporary and treatable! Seeking help, whether through a mental health professional, a peer-to-peer support group, and/or with medication, is critical for these moms, partners, and families.

So what can I do to support a new mom*?

Remember that “new mom” means a mother who has newly given birth or adopted a child.

  • ASK what would be most helpful. For some women, it’s helping with grocery shopping, cleaning up around the house, or meal prep. For others, it’s holding the baby and/or entertaining older siblings so she can shower, nap, or just be alone for a few minutes.
  • Check in with HER. She just became a mother, which is extremely life-altering – whether it’s her first or fifth baby. Ask her how she’s doing physically. Ask her how she’s sleeping. Ask her how she’s adjusting.
  • Plan to visit when it’s convenient for HER. You may be thrilled to meet the newest addition to the world, but a new mama is balancing a lot of different things – her body, the baby’s needs, her partner’s needs, other children’s needs, making sure she’s rested, eating well, showered, not wearing dirty clothes – the list is endless. She may want to spend some time getting to know her new tiny human (who, despite housing for the last nine months, is essentially a stranger!). The last thing she wants is to entertain visitors when she really needs to be focusing on something else. Ask when would work best for her and respect her wishes.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask about her mental health. Many of my clients say, “No one really asked how I was doing. They were just focused on the baby/food/chores.” There are so many things for a mother of a new baby to think about, but one of the best predictors of her baby’s and family’s health is HER health. Help her remember that by asking how she’s doing emotionally.

Know how to find resources to support her if she’s struggling.

  • PSI Provider Directory – Available at: https://www.postpartum.net/get-help/providerdirectory/
  • PSI Local Coordinator in your state – find yours at: https://www.postpartum.net/get-help/locations/united-states/
  • Northshore Moms Line – 1-866-364-6667: This is a free, confidential hotline staffed by mental health professionals. It is available 24 hours a day for patients and families needing information and support.
  • Fussy Baby Network Warm Line – Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.: This is a resource from the Erikson Institute to help families struggling with feeding, sleeping, and crying.
  • Your local hospital

Together, we can intentionally support new moms and bravely explore their mental health. As the wise Barbara Katz Rothman said, “Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers – strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.”


Dawn Leprich-Graves

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