Pregnancy is a demanding endeavor, and often a joyful one. Creating a human being feels great when all goes well — maybe the most exciting thing you can imagine! And yet, pregnancy also creates stress. The physical demands of pregnancy growth are complex. Many women undergo various forms of prenatal testing, which can provoke intense anxiety. The major lifestyle changes that come along with a baby can feel like losses, even when a pregnancy is planned and welcome.
These emotional changes are often useful in helping new parents empathize with their newborn's vulnerable state. However, a significant number of women experience not good stress, but also states of anxiety and/or depression. Pregnancy mood disorders are not as well known or recognized as postpartum mood disorders, but the two are related. It helps to think of them as two sides of one coin — perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
How can you distinguish between ordinary mood swings during pregnancy and a pregnancy mood disorder? It helps to pay attention to the duration, frequency and intensity of moods. Feeling mildly depressed for a day is different from having the same feeling for a month. Occasional anxious moods are different than consistent daily anxiety. The misery of a panic attack or deep depression is quite different from a nagging feeling of concern or low energy.
It is always appropriate to discuss concerns about moods with a pregnancy care provider. Midwives and doctors have assessment tools and referrals to help mothers determine whether additional care is appropriate. Another excellent resource for support and information is Postpartum Support International of Washington (888-404-7763).
If a mood disorder is diagnosed, a care provider may recommend psychological counseling or mood-stabilizing medications as well as ordinary helpful activities such as healthy eating, sleep, exercise and emotional support.
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders can generally be resolved with appropriate care, but they often do not resolve smoothly without care. When pregnancy mood disorders are not addressed, the experiences of pregnancy and postpartum become much more challenging and may lose all delight, affecting your entire family. If you are concerned about your moods, pay attention and find the care you need.
— Margaret Bergmann-Ness, MA, LICSW, CPD (DONA), perinatal social worker, psychotherapist, internationally certified birth and postpartum doula, and lead instructor for the postpartum doula skills workshop at the Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations.
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