Having a baby is a life-changing experience that can bring great joy, but for many people, it can also bring on anxiety and depression. Postpartum and perinatal (both during and after pregnancy) depression and anxiety are serious mental health conditions, and experts say they should be treated with medical help.
In this Kidcast, Kristine Sorensen talks with psychiatrist Dr. Edye Moses-Kolko, of UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, who specializes in peripartum depression. Here’s their edited conversation.
Kristine Sorensen: How common is postpartum depression?
Dr. Edye Moses-Kolko: It can actually be pretty common and occurs also in pregnant women. About 1 out of 7 women can have some symptoms of perinatal depression (during and/or after pregnancy).
Kristine Sorensen: Can women can also experience anxiety during this time?
Dr. Edye Moses-Kolko: Yes. Postpartum depression is sort of the depression you’d experience at any time of life, with lack of interest, lack of motivation, low mood, decreased appetite or increased appetite, decreased or increased sleep, guilt, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.
In a lot of perinatal women, both pregnant and postpartum, there’s a high prominence of anxiety, and this occurs when women are worrying continuously. They tell us that their brain won’t stop. They often can’t sleep because they’re up thinking about things that they need to do, wondering if the baby is okay.
It’s normal for women to come home with a baby and want to check on their baby’s breathing, but for women who continue to do this for months after their baby comes home, it’s excessive, and it gets in the way of their own functioning.
Kristine Sorensen: So if a woman realizes she has some of these symptoms, what should she do?
Dr. Edye Moses-Kolko: For starters, there are common-sense strategies like taking time for yourself, taking care of yourself, getting people to support you so you can get a break from watching the baby. We also think exercise is really important to mental health. Some other things that can really go a long way toward feeling better: getting a chance to shower, getting a chance to eat a meal, getting a good night’s sleep, having your spouse take over for childcare in the middle of the night or a family member who can spend the night and care for the baby.
It’s important to talk to other people. It’s important to talk to your partner. Talk to other friends and let them know what you’re going through, what’s on your mind, and get some support from them.
If you’re feeling like you really can’t cope, that you’re so anxious that you need some professional help, you can often call your OB/GYN or your primary care doctor. There’s increasing understanding about postpartum depression, and they may be able to prescribe a medication for you or refer you to mental health services so that you can get psychotherapy.
Kristine Sorensen: Then there are some symptoms that are more serious, where if a woman’s’ experiencing those she should go get emergency care. What are those?
Dr. Edye Moses-Kolko: If you’re not able to sleep at all for days on end. If you’re feeling confused and unable to take care of yourself or your baby. If you’re agitated, suicidal. If you’re having thoughts to kill your baby that you actually think you need to follow through on. These are all reasons to seek emergency care immediately.