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Lincoln – During Mental Health Awareness Month this May, it's especially important to remember to support the mental changes that can take place during pregnancy and after birth to keep both mothers and babies happy and safe.
Maternal mental health includes a range of symptoms and illnesses including but not limited to anxiety, depression, and other brain illnesses such as psychosis. Women can and do recover, so asking for help or encouraging others to seek help is important.
“May marks a time to focus on the importance of mental health during pregnancy and after birth," said Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health. “There are effective treatment options to help women feel healthier. We are encouraging family, friends, and neighbors of new moms to ask how they are really feeling. Provide them with hope, support, and resource information this month and every day."
Maternal anxiety and maternal depression are the most common complications of childbirth, impacting up to 1 in 5 women, yet they are not universally screened for and are often untreated. These illnesses can be caused by biological, psychological, and social stressors, such as lack of support, a family history, or a previous experience with these disorders.
While up to 80 percent of new moms will experience the “baby blues" – sadness, mood swings, and crying episodes – due to hormonal changes, the blues are not considered a disorder, because the symptoms usually resolve within a few days. If symptoms last more than two weeks, the mother may be experiencing depression or another mental health condition. In addition to the typical symptoms of depression and anxiety, other symptoms of depression and anxiety during and after pregnancy may include persistent doubt in the ability to take care of their infant, trouble bonding with the infant, and thoughts of self-harm or harm of the infant.
Maternal mental health (MMH) disorders include a range of disorders and symptoms, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, birth PTSD, and psychosis. These disorders and symptoms can occur during pregnancy and/or the postpartum period. When left untreated, these disorders can be devastating for mothers, babies, and families. These risks are compounded in the 10 to 15 percent of births ending in miscarriage and the estimated one percent of births that end in stillbirth.
“Mental health is a normal part of physical health," said Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health. “You would call your doctor for a physical health problem, and it's just as important to ask for mental health as well."
“It is so important to take care of your mind and body," said Jackie Moline, maternal infant health program manager for the DHHS Division of Public Health. “Mental health is not something to be ashamed of. You, your partner, family and friends should know the signs of postpartum depression and anxiety. Reach out for help, and talk honestly with your health care provider."
Elevated levels of depression and anxiety symptoms during pregnancy contribute to the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight. Additionally, stressful life events experienced in the 12 months prior to delivery increase a woman's likelihood of having a preterm birth, low birth weight baby, and symptoms of postpartum depression. Experiences during a mother's pregnancy can also impact a child's health. Breastfeeding duration is associated with postpartum depression and depressive symptoms—mothers who experience postpartum depression reported shorter breastfeeding duration.
The good news is that risk for both depression and anxiety can be reduced and sometimes prevented, and with treatment, women can recover.
If you think you're suffering from a postpartum mental health issue, talk to your doctor right away. There are many treatments available, including:
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends universal screening for depression and anxiety for all women, both as a part of routine gynecological care and during the perinatal period. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends screening for postpartum depression at 1, 2, 3, and 6 months post-delivery. ACOG's Committee Opinion also adds that women at high risk of depression – for example, those with a history of depression or anxiety – warrant especially close monitoring.
Need to talk or get immediate help in a crisis? Help is available. If you or a loved one need assistance, please reach out to: