pht 02_signssymptomsPerinatal mood and anxiety disorders can manifest itself in many ways and can occur anytime from conception through two years after delivery.  Some women experience persistent feelings of intense sadness.  Others experience fluctuating mood swings.  Still others experience a tremendous anxiety.  The following is a list of symptoms for various types of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. A woman may experience some but not necessarily all of these symptoms.

  • Deep Sadness
  • Crying Spells
  • Hopelessness
  • Excessive Worrying
  • Intense Irritability or Anger
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Inability to Sleep, Even When the Baby is sleeping
  • Overwhelming Fatigue
  • Loss of Interest in Sex
  • Lack of Joy in Life
  • Feelings of Shame, Guilt or Inadequacy
  • Severe Mood Swings
  • Withdrawal from Family and Friends
  • Confusion or Disorientation
  • Hallucinations and Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Difficulty Bonding with the Baby
  • Thoughts of Harming Yourself or the Baby
  • Attempts to Harm Yourself or the Baby

If you or someone you love is experiencing any of these symptoms, please talk to a healthcare provider!  A phone call is the first, and sometimes the hardest, step toward receiving a full assessment and getting well.  You may also want to download our Six Things Every New Mom and Mom to Be Should Know About Maternal Depression brochure.

The assessment and diagnosis of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders is complex.  Although most symptoms will develop during the first three months, the entire first year postpartum is considered clinically significant.  There are a number of different ways in which the symptoms of perinatal illness can present.

Perinatal Depression and Anxiety: Depression and anxiety can occur during pregnancy and in the postpartum period.  Postpartum depression often looks like overwhelming anxiety.  Women may experience deep sadness, crying spells, disruptions in sleep and appetite.  They feel disorientated and confused, as if in a fog.  In some cases, they feel emotionally detached from their infant and describe the sensation of going through the motions without an affectionate connection to their infant.  They have powerful feelings of inadequacy, which in many cases, leaves new mothers unable to cope and/or terrified of being left alone with the baby, believing that they won't know how to care for their crying infant.  There are tremendous feelings of hopelessness, guilt and sometimes a conviction that they should be replaced by another, more suitable mother.

Perinatal Panic Attacks: Panic attacks strongly resembles the symptoms of a heart attack - pressure on the chest, difficulty breathing, palpitations, dizziness, numbness and tingling.  New mothers with panic disorder are often awakened out of their sleep by an attack.

Perinatal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Some women with perinatal obsessive compulsive disorder may have scary and intrusive thoughts including images of hurting their children.  These are very disturbing to them and they often take steps to avoid those outcomes.  These thoughts are followed by compulsive behaviors intended to relieve the anxiety induced by these repetitive and intrusive thoughts.  Much of the time, these obsessive behaviors revolve around checking, counting, and concerns about cleanliness and hygiene.

Perinatal Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Unexpected events during pregnancy or childbirth can be perceived as traumatic for some new mothers.  For other mothers, the act of giving birth may be a traumatic reminder of earlier events in their lives, like sexual, physical or emotional abuse.

Postpartum Psychosis: Although postpartum psychosis is rare, occurring in only 1-2% of births, it is a life-threatening medical emergency that necessitates immediate medical attention in order to safeguard the life of both mother and infant.  A psychotic episode postpartum should never be confused with postpartum depression.  It is NOT an extreme form of postpartum depression; it is an illness completely separate form other kinds of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders in that implies a break with reality.  Infanticide is very rare amongst women with postpartum psychosis.  We must learn to recognize and respond to these symptoms promptly and thereby prevent tragedy.

Paternal Postpartum Depression: Father's symptoms of anxiety and depression during the perinatal period can be very similar to a mother's symptoms, although in some cases fathers tend more toward substance abuse, particularly alcohol abuse, and acting out in aggressive ways than do mothers.  It is critical that we, as a society, recognize paternal postpartum depression and encourage fathers to seek help when symptoms occur.  The consequences to the devloping baby/child can be serious indeed if both parents are ill with perinatal mood disorders.