December 17, 2021
What Is Perinatal Mental Health & Why Is It Important?
Written by Rachel Eddins
What does perinatal mental health mean, anyways?
When someone announces that they’re pregnant, a host of responses will ensue. These may include clichés and platitudes.
Plus, of course, there will be many heartfelt expressions of joy. What isn’t so common are gentle warnings about perinatal mental health.
Technically, “perinatal” refers to the period including pregnancy and one-month post-birth. In practical usage, this term includes pregnancy to 12 months postpartum.
That time period is a roller coaster of highs and lows. Hormones, stress, excitement, and non-stop change define the pregnant woman’s life.
In the midst of all this, it remains essential for you to guard your mental health.
Vulnerability, Introspection, and Responsibilities
Pregnancy, particularly with your first child, involves a shift. You suddenly now see yourself as a mother. This realization can bring with it a wave of conflicting and confusing emotions, e.g.
- Recalling, reliving, and reconciling aspects of your childhood
- Feeling vulnerable and anxious
- Basking in the glow — and the power — of bringing a new life into the world
- Wondering about your skills as a caregiver
- Juggling hormones and expectations, 24/7
Women in the perinatal period run a high risk for mental health issues like depression and anxiety. The up and down mood swings do not help.
Roughly 8 out of 10 new mothers struggle with what’s called the “baby blues.” This will usually resolve but, in a few cases, can escalate into postpartum depression.
The Baby Blues
Everything is different and you feel so alone. This is not a fun combination — especially when you have a newborn to tend to.
It may help to recognize that your hormones do a lot of fluctuation during birth. This continues even after delivery for a couple of weeks.
- Feel extra, even uncontrollably emotional
- Experience sleep disturbances
- Cry a lot
- Lose your temper rather easily
- Describe yourself as depressed
That last symptom is the one to keep an eye on. Up to 70% of women will struggle with depressive symptoms in the first week or two after giving birth.
It’s common but, even so, worthy of your attention. If such symptoms linger as the weeks pass, you could fall into the 10-15% of those who develop postpartum depression.
This is where things start to look like any other case of depression, e.g. losing interest in activities you once found pleasurable, low energy, intense sadness, crying for no reason, sleep issues, and irritability.
However, postpartum depression comes with one big difference from other forms of depression. You may feel detached from her new baby. You may even resent the child.
This aspect shows itself in anxiety related to your appearance, breastfeeding, fixation on your baby’s health, and worries about money.
Left unaddressed, postpartum depression can lead to you having thoughts of:
- Wishing you didn’t decide to become a mother
- Escaping the situation
- Harming your baby
Yes, the “harming the baby” part is tough to deal with but not uncommon. As many as 4 out of 10 women with postpartum depression report such thoughts.
Obviously, this is a red flag that requires the attention of an experienced therapist or counselor.
Safeguarding Your Perinatal Mental Health
There are some risk factors for baby blues or postpartum depression, for example:
- A history of depression or anxiety
- Conflict with your partner
- Not enough support (having the child alone)
- A history of sexual abuse
But even if none of the above are present, it makes a whole lot of sense to reach out for help.
Pregnancy may seem normal to the point of becoming mundane. But it involves many difficult factors.
You are not alone. I’m here to help you through such an exhilarating yet nerve-wracking time. Contact us for Pregnancy Counseling.
If you are pregnant, contact us in Houston to get the support you need through the process. To get started now, give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-843-1555 or schedule an appointment online. We look forward to helping you!