Perinatal mental health includes your mental and emotional health and that of your partner during pregnancy and up to a year after your baby’s birth. This period constitutes the perinatal period.
During the perinatal period your body and your life change radically, and these changes, although usually normal, can generate a wide variety of emotions.
It is perfectly normal to have a little anxiety about the progress of your pregnancy, however,it is important to acknowledge it when this stress creates problems in your daily life.
Mental health disorders during pregnancy and after are more common than you would think. In Great Britain it has been recorded that 1 in 5 women have problems with their mental health during this period. These problems are called perinatal mental health disorders or difficulties.
There are more common but also more rare disorders. Here we will say a few words about each.
Baby blues usually appear in the first days after birth and usually, although not always,coincide with the change of breast milk from colostrum to whole milk.
The hormonal fluctuations caused by this change, whether you are breastfeeding or not, cause a wide variety of emotions such as anxiety, insecurity, depressive feelings and sometimes difficulty in establishing a relationship with your newborn baby.
It is important to remember that, even though you are parents, you are also individual people. The fatigue of the first days, the uncertainty and getting to know your child may create some anxiety and intense emotions. This is normal. This period of baby blues usually lasts from a few days to 2 weeks after birth.
If these feelings and difficulties stay for longer, then you may have postpartum depression.
Depression is characterised by several signs and symptoms. These include:
- Decreased interest for activities you usually like
- Difficulty sleeping and resting, in addition to normal expected insomnia with a newborn
- Decreased or increased appetite
- Difficulty relating to the newborn and your partner
- Feelings of helplessness and fear that your baby will get hurt
- Feelings of guilt and that your baby would be better off without you
These feelings are very scary for new parents, especially if they feel that they cannot communicate them with anyone. It is very important, however, to offer appropriate assistance in these cases.
Remember, postpartum depression is like any other condition during the perinatal period, and deserves the same attention. In addition, depression, like perinatal anxiety disorder can occur in both postpartum and pregnancy.
Perinatal anxiety disorder
This is often characterised by:
- Avoiding activities
- Inability to relate to the fetus/newborn
- Panic attacks
- Feelings of fear about pregnancy, childbirth and caring for the baby.
This, although a normal, to some extent, reaction to a new condition such as pregnancy, can create a variety of problems for both you and the developing foetus.
New sciences dealing with perinatal psychology have begun to associate increased anxiety in pregnancy with various disorders during childhood such as attention deficit disorder.
In addition, increased anxiety may be due to other causes that are of great importance such as tocophobia or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Tocophobia is a phenomenon that stems from the fear of the process of childbirth.
Women suffering from tocophobia are afraid of the process of pregnancy and childbirth for many reasons, however, it is something that can easily be addressed and discussed with the right guidance and perinatal education.
These worries and fears are very real for the woman. It is important to have the right professionals who can help you make the right choice for you, your baby and your family.
Post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) or Birth Trauma
Many times the birth of your baby is not what you imagined and this can have a very negative effect after the birth but also in subsequent pregnancies. This is called birth trauma which in turn, as with any traumatic event, can cause post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
This is characterised by unpleasant flashbacks that cause fear and often lead to other anxiety and depressive disorders.
Less common perinatal mental disorders are:
- Perinatal OCD: This disorder is characterised by intrusive thoughts, obsessions and compulsions.
- Perinatal psychosis is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate care in a psychiatric unit. It may include hallucinations, delusions and it can pose a danger to your and your baby’s life.
Please watch our free perinatal mental health seminar to learn more about these conditions and to better understand what can happen in this period, or book a one to one session with our midwife or psychologist.