Do I Have a Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder?

Life with a baby typically brings worry, but feeling anxious, sad, overwhelmed or even angry much of the time is not typical. You could be experiencing a maternal mental health disorder (or MMH disorder). While postpartum depression (PPD) is more well known, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) better defines several different illnesses that can impact a mom during pregnancy or within the first year postpartum. On this page you can find information on each PMAD as well as symptoms you may be experiencing. Moms in the Greater Milwaukee area can contact us and we will connect you to resources that can help. 

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Pregnancy (antepartum or prenatal depression) as well as postpartum depression are more common than many realize. While postpartum depression often becomes the scapegoat for nearly all postpartum mental health issues, there are some hallmark symptoms that are used to identify this illness including the following:

  • Completely overwhelmed by being a mom and you just don’t think you can do it
  • Regret of becoming a mom in the first place or fear you made the WRONG decision to have a baby
  • Confused as to why this is happening to you
  • Anger or rage toward your baby or others around you
  • Disconnected or numb to what’s happening around you—you just don’t feel like yourself anymore
  • Sad and guilty you’re missing out on your baby’s first days/weeks/months
  • Like a mess, crying nonstop even for no apparent reason
  • Fear that you will never be yourself again and things will never get better
  • Like you are a terrible mother unworthy of your child
  • Unable to eat or eating way too much
  • Restless at night and unable to sleep when your baby is sleeping
  • Tired all the time and unable to stay awake
  • Forgetful, unable to concentrate, or foggy-brained
  • Like you want to end it—you’ve had thoughts about hurting yourself or the baby

It is important to recognize that postpartum depression is NOT the “baby blues” which is typically a few days to two weeks of mild ups and downs and weepiness. The key is to ask yourself how often have you been feeling this way, for how long and to what extent are these symptoms affecting your ability to function in your daily life?

Pregnancy or postpartum anxiety can be present on its own or in addition to postpartum depression. While most moms experience some anxiousness or worry during pregnancy or after giving birth, postpartum anxiety is more severe and impacts a mom’s ability to function and/or bond with her baby.

Symptoms include:

  • Constant worry
  • Feeling as though something bad is going to happen
  • Racing thoughts that are difficult to slow down
  • Feeling like your to-do list is never done or that your work is never good enough
  • Sleep and/or appetite disturbances
  • Feeling as though you can’t sit still, restlessness
  • Physical symptoms such as dizziness, nausea or diarrhea

In addition to generalized anxiety, a mom may also suffer from postpartum panic disorder with which she will likely experience extreme nervousness and recurring panic attacks. These attacks may include dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, heart palpitations and numbness or tingling in the extremities. These symptoms are not life threatening and will subside after the attack passes.

Anxiety may also present as pregnancy or postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder or postpartum-OCD. This disorder is known for causing intrusive thoughts that are unwanted and terrifying to the mom who is experiencing them. You might be suffering from postpartum-OCD if you are experiencing some of the following:

  • Worried constantly no matter what others might say to reassure you
  • Disturbed by dark, unwanted thoughts – possibly about harm coming to your baby
  • Afraid to be alone with your baby
  • Spending hours Googling or researching in an attempt to decrease your anxiety
  • Avoiding potentially harmful things such as the stove, stairs, knives or bathtub
  • Obsessed with checking things such as locked doors or your baby’s breathing
  • Sleep and/or appetite disturbances
  • Afraid that if you share what you’re experiencing with loved ones or a doctor, that your baby will be taken from you

A professional who has not been properly trained in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders may confuse postpartum-OCD with postpartum psychosis.

Therefore, many moms experiencing intrusive thoughts are afraid to be honest with family, friends or providers. The key differentiating factor is that a mom with postpartum-OCD experiences thoughts that are ego-dystonic or thoughts and/or impulses that are distressing and inconsistent with the person she identifies herself to be.

Several events can contribute to a mom experiencing PTSD during pregnancy or postpartum. These may include lack of support, health issues while pregnant, pregnancy complications, prolapsed cord, unplanned c-section, alternative means to deliver the baby, feelings of powerlessness or a baby who needs to spend time in the NICU. Symptoms may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Avoidance of stimuli associated with the perceived traumatic event
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety and/or panic attacks

We want to stress that trauma is subjective. Your pregnancy, labor, delivery or postpartum period may not be deemed traumatic from a medical perspective. However, if you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD during your pregnancy or postpartum, know that your feelings are valid and you deserve to be taken seriously. Please reach out to a provider you can trust.

POSTPARTUM PSYCHOSIS is a rare but extremely serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Approximately 1 or 2 out of 1,000 moms will experience postpartum psychosis. Hyperbolic media depictions have greatly contributed to the inaccurate assumptions about the disorder. While you may have been lead to believe that all moms experiencing postpartum psychosis harm themselves or their children, the reality is that 5% of moms with postpartum psychosis commit suicide and 4% commit infanticide. Those statistics are still far too great for a condition that is treatable.

A mom who is suffering from postpartum psychosis experiences a break from reality. In her psychotic state, her hallucinations, delusions and beliefs make perfect sense to her. As opposed to postpartum-OCD, a mom with postpartum psychosis experiences thoughts that are ego-systonic or thoughts that are acceptable to her sense of self.

It’s important to note that many survivors of postpartum psychosis never harm themselves or anyone else, nor do they experience delusions that give them violent commands. However, because a mom with postpartum psychosis is experiencing irrational thinking and judgement, it is imperative that she be evaluated, treated and carefully monitored by a perinatal mental health professional. Please seek immediate medical attention if you or someone you know is experiencing any of the following:

  • Feeling paranoid or suspecting that others are out to get you
  • Seeing and/or hearing things that no one else does
  • Experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or others that you want to act on
  • You are unable to sleep and have more energy than you’ve ever had before
  • You are irritated by the fact that those around you don’t seem to understand you

What you’re experiencing is very scary and you may fear telling anyone how you feel, but it’s so important you get help. This is a temporary and treatable illness and with the right professional help, you will get better. If you’re a loved one, make sure this mom has 24/7 supervision until she is seen by a health care professional.

Please see our Get Help page to find a best fit professional for you or a loved one.