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Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders: (Part I of II)

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By Natalie Stage, MA Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Postpartum isn’t just depression.

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders

Postpartum depression is the most commonly known term for an illness that a mother can experience after birth, but did you know that there are many forms of illness mothers experience during the pregnancy and following it? In addition to depression, a woman can also experience anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar, psychosis and post traumatic stress disorder. Because of this, a more encompassing term I will use in this article is Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders.

The following is a brief description of what each of these illnesses can look like.


This is the most common complication related to childbirth. It can include unshakeable sadness, crying spells, difficulty sleeping or connecting with the child, and guilt. It can come and go, or it can stay constant. Sometimes a mother can have suicidal thoughts with her depression. If this is the case, it is important to seek help from a professional immediately or call 911.


Anxiety can include symptoms such as: panic attacks, excessive worry, avoidance of things out of fear, racing thoughts, and feeling anxious about things you weren’t anxious about before. The focus of the anxiety can often be on the child or pregnancy, but it doesn’t have to be.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD is often characterized by intrusive and recurring thoughts. These thoughts can be scary and seem unlike you. OCD can also include having compulsions. Examples of these compulsions are: feeling the need to continually check on the baby or only feeling comfortable with a very particular way of doing things. Oftentimes, the anxiety can seem like it doesn’t make sense.


Bipolar Disorder includes periods of depression and periods of a heightened mood. During these heightened moods, one may feel like they are on top of the world, seem overconfident, and not need as much sleep. It seems as if all problems experienced during depression have dissolved. Sometimes, a person jut has a heightened mood and no depression with it.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

When a parent develops PTSD, it is because they went through an experience during the pregnancy or after that was very scary to them. Reliving the birth experience in their mind (flashbacks or nightmares), avoiding reminders of the traumatic experience such as the hospital, and experiencing panic attacks when reminded of the event are all possible symptoms.


Postpartum psychosis is rare, but it does happen. This can involve strange or delusional thoughts, hallucinations and mood swings. Psychosis needs immediate attention and help. It is best to seek help from the hospital or by calling 911 for these situations.

The above criteria are guidelines and examples only. A professional is needed to diagnose a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder. The good news is that if this sounds like you, Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders do get better with treatment! The sooner professional help is sought, the quicker recovery begins.

Now you know more about what Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders are, but did you know that men can be affected by the birth of a child and develop some of these same symptoms?

Continued in “Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders: (Part I of II)”, coming soon.