Post Partum Mood Disorders

It is estimated that 80% or more women who give birth experience some sort of post partum mood disorder. These mood changes can range from “the Baby Blues” To full blown psychoses. While it may be difficult for a woman to discern just which mood disorder she may have, the rule of thumb is if your mood, thoughts and/or behaviors concern you, then consult with a health care provider and get help-the sooner the better!

Most post partum mood disorders can be treated, often with a combination of medications, social support and psychotherapy. If you or someone you know is suffering with mood changes post partum, get help. Mood disorders are medical disorders and need to be treated medically. Don’t let fear and shame keep you or someone you love from getting the help that is needed. Keep this in mind:

“Any help you get directly benefits not only you but your child.”~Alyson Stone, PhD, Psychotherapist.

Here is a short list of common post partum mood disorders. This list is in no way exhaustive, but merely a way for you to possibly identify what you may be feeling and to be better able to communicate your needs and feelings with your health care provider.

The Baby Blues – A feeling of sadness that occurs hours to days after delivery. The onset coincides with the fluctuation of hormones after birth. Symptoms typically resolve in the days to first couple of  weeks post partum.

Post Partum Anxiety Disorder – Onset occurs in the early weeks following delivery. A sense of impending doom and a dire need to “get it all done and to get it all right”  or else something bad will happen. Most women have no specific idea what “bad” thing will happen, but the feelings keep them on edge; sometimes with sleep and appetite changes which only heighten the anxiety.

Post Partum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – A close kinsman to post partum anxiety disorder, occurring in the early days to weeks post partum OCD is marked by perfectionism; making sure that everything that touches the baby is absolutely sterile and perfect. If there is any shift from this “self imposed” standard, then all is lost. This disorder can take a particular toll on moms because they feel that they are the only ones who can properly care for their babies and often won’t seek or accept the help of others.  This can have  serious negative effects on moms overall health in the way of sleep deprivation and appetite changes just to name a few.

Post Partum Depression – A fairly common disorder, Post Partum Depression is estimated to affect somewhere between 5 and 25% of all post partum women. Some experts estimate that the number may be closer to 40% because women who have miscarriages, still births, and early post partum fetal demise are often not counted in the statistics. Post partum depression has a more gradual onset, and symptoms often don’t fully manifest until about 3 weeks post partum. The symptoms include but are not limited to feelings of sadness or failure, sleep distubances (too little or too much sleep) appetite changes, apathy towards the baby, concerns about hurting the baby, apathy towards things previously liked and in severe untreated cases, suicidal ideation.  Post partum depression is a serious medical disorder for which there is treatment. If you have any of the aforementioned symptoms, please contact a health care provider immediately.

Post Partum Psychosis – Post partum psychosis is a rare post partum mood disorder that affects only about 1-2 out of every 1000 post partum women. It gained wide recognition in 2001 when Andrea Yates, a Houston Texas mother of 5 killed all of her children after hearing voices telling her to do so.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:

  • Delusions or strange beliefs
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • Feeling very irritated
  • Hyperactivity
  • Decreased need for or inability to sleep
  • Paranoia and suspiciousness
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Difficulty communicating at times

Andrea Yates, and any other women who has or had similar symptoms, had a serious mental break down. She was not able to distinguish what was real and what was an illusion in her own mind. Sadly, no one noticed Ms. Yates symptoms and this resulted in the tragic deaths of her 5 children. Andrea Yates reportedly had prior episodes of post partum depression and this should have been a warning given that the most significant risk factors for postpartum psychosis are a personal or family history of bipolar disorder, or a previous psychotic episode.

Post Partum psychosis is a very serious mental disorder. However, it can be treated. Early and aggressive treatment is necessary in order to preserve the health and safety of mother and baby and to prevent tragedy.