Contributed by Kelly Stainback-Tracy, MPH, IMH-E® (II), Perinatal Infant Mental Health Specialist at Denver Public Health.
What is pregnancy-related depression & anxiety?
Pregnancy-related depression and anxiety are the most common complications of pregnancy, affecting about one in seven women nationally. They can occur any time during pregnancy through the baby’s first birthday. They also may happen after a miscarriage, pregnancy loss or after adopting a baby.
Unlike the “baby blues,” which are normal emotional swings that occur after birth and resolve within two weeks of delivery, pregnancy-related depression and anxiety are serious conditions that affect a women’s physical and mental health. Symptoms differ for everyone, but may include the following:
- Feelings of anger or irritability
- Lack of interest in the baby
- Crying and sadness
- Feelings of guilt, shame or hopelessness
Although pregnancy-related depression and anxiety are common, many women feel uncomfortable talking about their symptoms. Our society often portrays pregnancy and early parenting as “the happiest time of your life.” For a mother to admit to feeling anything else during this time can be very difficult.
Women often feel guilty about their symptoms and may be reluctant to share what they are feeling with others. Recognizing the symptoms and encouraging women to seek support is important because pregnancy-related depression and anxiety are treatable through self-care, social support and counseling.
Working with families – asking questions & providing support
Anyone who works with families can help mothers and babies get off to the best start possible. This starts with asking mothers about how they are doing, helping struggling mothers to understand they are not alone, and encouraging them to reach out for support. Starting the conversations about symptoms begins with genuine, caring questions. Mothers are so used to getting questions about their baby, but asking her how she is doing is a powerful way to demonstrate care and concern for the whole family.
Here are some examples of ways to start conversations:
- Taking care of a baby is hard sometimes. How have you been doing?
- Parenting can be overwhelming. Are you finding ways to take care of yourself?
- Parenting is hard, and talking with others can help. We are happy to connect you with other families or community resources.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment launched a public awareness campaign about pregnancy-related depression and anxiety. The campaign is available in English and Spanish. It’s designed to help women and the people who care about them to recognize symptoms and realize they are not alone. It also encourages them to seek support. The campaign materials include information about how to contact Postpartum Support International, a free service offering support and referrals in both English and Spanish.