Understanding Perinatal Mental Health (Maternal Depression)
Giving birth and raising children can be very hard. The time right after having a baby can be a very hard time for some women, due to hormonal changes and the stress of caring for a new baby. Although many women feel a short period of sadness after giving birth, (which is a very normal reaction) about 10 to 20 percent of women experience a perinatal mental health issue, which may last for a few days or a few months. These issues may be twice as high for mothers living in poverty. Other mothers may experience longer perinatal mood disorders and need help.
Perinatal Mental Health refers to the emotional and psychological experience of women and their families during the preconception through the postpartum period. Other terms include maternal mental health, maternal depression, postpartum depression, Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, perinatal emotional complications.
There are many reasons why a mother might be experience a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder such as marriage problems, money problems, not enough social supports, having a child with special needs, problems with spouse and many others. While many women who experience a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder are very good mothers often their parenting is affected. Mothers who are depressed or anxious may not play with their babies, they may not breastfeed, they may not show books to their child, or talk with their infants and are less likely to follow routines (Addressing Maternal Health in the Pediatric Medical Home, CHDI.org).). Many depressed or anxious mothers think they are bad parents and can be hard on their child and in some cases act mean toward their child.
There is evidence that these disorders have bad effects on infants, toddlers, school-age children and adolescents. Children of depressed and/or anxious mothers have been found to have a hard time establishing warm relationships, and bonds with their caregiver. Researchers have found that young children of depressed and/or anxious mothers are tired, do not have energy, have trouble separating, more afraid than children of non-depressed mothers. School-aged children of depressed/anxious mothers may have school problems, poor friend relationships, lower self-esteem, behavior problems and are at-risk of getting their own depressive and anxiety problems. However, not all children will have a bad reaction from their caregiver’s perinatal mood disorder. Each child is different and how they react will be based on their genetic make-up as well as by their surroundings.
The good news is that there is treatment for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and getting this treatment as early as possible is important for a mother/caregiver. If you think you might be experiencing a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder or any other type of depression please consult a doctor immediately. If you live in Connecticut, you can also call 2-1-1 or visit their website to search for support. Another website called, Postpartum Support International is a great resource to find support groups and resources in your state. For Connecticut’s chapter of Postpartum Support International, click here.
Resources and Community Support:
Postpartum Education for Parents: http://www.sbpep.org
Postpartum Support International: http://www.postpartum.net
National Institute of Mental Health: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml
National Mental Health Information Center: http://www.samhsa.gov