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Perinatal and Postpartum Mental Health

May 7, 2021

Perinatal and Postpartum Mental Health

May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month so I thought I would take the opportunity to talk about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs).  

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorder is the occurrence of distressing emotional symptoms during pregnancy and throughout the first year after pregnancy. Around 15%-20% of mothers experience symptoms related to PMAD (Byrnes, 2018). The term has been broadened from postpartum depression in recent years to include symptoms of anxiety, obsessive and compulsive disorder, psychosis, and posttraumatic stress disorder. 

Symptoms of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMADs)

  • Persistent sadness
  • Crying or tearfulness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in things that used to bring joy
  • Difficulty bonding with baby
  • Constant worry, anxiety, or feeling panicky
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, self-doubt, guilt
  • Irritability or anger
  • Fear of being alone with/or separated from baby
  • Problems with eating and sleeping
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

The birth of a new baby is typically a time of celebration and joy within our culture. The experience of PMADS so often goes into the shadows and parents are left to feel isolated and to blame. If a family is experiencing PMADs it can have adverse emotional and physical effects on the whole family. It is important to be able to recognize the signs and to seek support. With help, PMADs are treatable. You are not alone and it is not your fault. 

Perinatal Mental Health for Partners and Family Members

It’s important to mention that fathers, partners, and non-gestational parents can also experience symptoms of PMADS. This includes families with same-sex relationships, foster parents, adoptive parents or other non-biological parents. Having a newborn brings about a multitude of stressors into a family. It is a tremendous adjustment for the couple, the family, as well as psychologically for the individual. 

How Perinatal and Postpartum Therapy Can Help New Parents

The shift to becoming a parent is complex and holds emotional and psychological challenges. The identity you hold as a “mother” or “father” may be ambivalent depending on your own experiences of being parented. The model you have for parenthood greatly influences how you feel about the emerging role of parenthood. I often hear new parents in my office sharing how they feel as if they lost themselves after becoming a parent. Lack of social support during this phase of life can amplify the stress and intensify feelings of isolation and helplessness. When I work with expecting or new parents, I help individuals explore their internalized models for parenthood, their expectations, and work through any rising grief and loss. We also identify and work towards addressing their needs for support. My hope is to strengthen families and help parents feel empowered as they step into their new roles and identities. 

Perinatal and Postpartum Counseling for New Parents

With support, the journey into parenthood can be rewarding and beautiful. If you or a loved one is experiencing signs of PMADs, seek support with perinatal and postpartum counseling. It can get better. We are a group of licensed therapists and psychologist that enjoy working with new parents at every stage of parenthood. We are located in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle and we offer online counseling. Schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation to see if we are a good fit for you. 

Author

Julianna Fetner is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Thrive for the People. ​

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