What is Perinatal Depression? And What Can You Do?

This post was written by Graziela Solomon. She is a mom of one and has been a Counselor for 4 years with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology through the University of North Texas and a Masters in Counseling through SMU (Southern Methodist University- Dallas). I’m so glad that she was able to sit down with me to talk about Perinatal Depression and it’s effects on women around the world. She’s also shared some incredibly helpful tips for getting through perinatal depression.

What is Perinatal Depression? And What Can You Do?

Becoming a Mother is one of the most exciting and frightening times of a woman’s life. It is amazing to watch our bodies changing and creating life; then, when the baby is born, being able to hold that tiny human being in your arms, brings a feeling hard to explain.  However, these magical moments can bring a lot of uncertainty and anxiety as well. Let me tell you one thing: IT IS OK TO BE CONFUSED, TIRED, OVERWHELMED, EVEN SAD! 

Moms are harder on themselves than anybody else. When facing those feelings during or after pregnancy, a lot of times, we try to push them away and even feel guilty for feeling like that, because we have a little miracle in our arms, we should be happy, right?

The American Medical Association (2019) stated that Perinatal depression, which is the occurrence of a depressive disorder during pregnancy or following childbirth, affects as many as 1 in 7 women and is one of the most common complications of pregnancy and the postpartum period. They also stated that perinatal depression can result in adverse short- and long-term effects on both the woman and child. 

Teri Pearlstein(2018) explained that untreated depression can lead to harmful prenatal health behaviors such as poor nutrition, poor prenatal medical care, smoking, alcohol or other substance misuse and risk of suicide, each of which can compromise the health of both mom and baby. Untreated depression during pregnancy increases the risk for Postpartum Depression, which has known negative effects on maternal-infant attachment and child development. In a pregnant woman with depression, the fetus can demonstrate abnormal neurobehavioural responses such as altered heart rate activity.

What are some signs of depression and anxiety?

** Symptoms can appear at any time during pregnancy and the first 12 months after childbirth.

  • Depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • Excessive crying
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Fear that you’re not a good mother
  • Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Problems with appetite (loss of appetite or eating more than usual)
  • Problems with sleep (problems falling asleep or sleeping too much)
  • Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Intense irritability or irrational anger
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or inadequacy
  • Difficulty in thinking clearly, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Severe anxiety or panic attacks
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

As a counselor, I thought I knew what to expect from perinatal depression; however, when I had my little girl and the hormone imbalance took over me, I learned that there is a lot more than just mood swings. I would feel overjoyed, excited, and powerful one minute and then upset, overwhelmed, fragile, and moody the next. 

During pregnancy, our body goes through a lot of changes as our hormones work to create a new human. As Kate Daley explained, after giving birth, endorphins, those feel-good hormones that help manage pain, are running high for 24 hours. But by day three and four, our hormones take a serious nosedive. After our body releases the placenta, all the hormones it was producing such as estrogen, progesterone, relaxin, hCG, and HPL, go with it. We might know prolactin as the hormone most responsible for milk production; however, prolactin also affects dopamine, which gives us feelings of euphoria and happiness. One of the reasons behind moodiness, low energy levels, and slowed metabolism after our baby’s birth can be because of the prolactin. Another factor is sleep deprivation which is linked to cortisol, the stress hormone.

So, with so many changes going on, what can we do?

Rest

I know we are stating the obvious here, and you’ve probably heard the saying:  ‘’Sleep when the baby sleeps!’ at least one million times, but I am going to have to tell it one more time. It is important to try to get as much sleep as possible, as it was said before, sleep deprivation is linked to the stress hormone. 

Human interaction

It is easy for us to forget about ourselves and put our friends and family to the side, but it is important to keep those connections. Could you and your partner put a plan together where you two have some time together? Could he keep the baby for a couple of hours so you could go meet your friend for a quick coffee?

Although, I understand this sounds a bit ‘’indulgent’’ while pregnant (especially if you already have kids) or with a newborn; however, these little outings can really do wonders for your mental health.

Reach out! It’s ok to not be ok! 

Find a support group in your area. There are many women experiencing the same thing right now. Listening to someone else’s version of perinatal depression and sharing your own can help a bunch.

Talk about your concerns and feelings with a mental health provider. It can help you discover where the depression is coming from, and to find ways to manage your feelings and to make changes to help ease the depression or anxiety. 

For women in crisis who need help, hotlines are available:

  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Parental Stress Hotline – Help for Parents: 1-800-632-8188
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “Got5’ to 741741

Exercise

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most, if not all, days of the week for pregnant women who are not suffering any medical or obstetric complications.

Dr, Sohere Roked explained that “‘Moving your body has real proven effects of releasing the happy chemicals, endorphins which can help your mood. It helps to regulate cortisol. If you have a lot of cortisol, it can affect female hormones and your thyroids.’’ 

In 2008, a team from Pennsylvania State University looked at the links between exercise, body image satisfaction, and postpartum depression. “Depression and body image satisfaction were main determinants of later depression in pregnancy and postpartum,” they report, adding that pre-pregnancy exercise was also a moderating influence. Then, in 2009 a European study found that women who engaged in “vigorous physical activity” during pregnancy had a 19 percent lower risk of requiring antidepressants than women who were not physically active. Also, supporting the benefits of exercising, Jennifer S. Haas, MD, and her team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston concluded that “Lack of exercise was strongly and consistently associated with poor health status before, during, and after pregnancy.” And, researchers from McGill University, Canada found that a 12-week individualized home-based exercise intervention was significantly beneficial for women with postpartum depression. 

**It is also important to remember to always speak to your doctor if you feel like you are experiencing Perinatal depression symptoms.**

I hope you guys enjoyed this blog today about a super taboo topic with the views and expertise of mental health professionals. 

It is amazing to know that exercising has SO MANY benefits even positively influencing your mental health. 

We do, however, understand that sometimes it can feel confusing and overwhelming to know what is safe and what is not to do during and after pregnancy, and that’s why the Mother Strong League will now be offering pregnancy plans in addition to the plans for the moms who already had their babies. 

The pregnancy plans had been available to the existing members of the Mother Strong League, and the success of it has been so incredibly amazing that we decided to open it to the general public when we launch again… in just a few short weeks. 

So, if you are a mom, is going to be a mom or know someone, keep your eyes open as we announce our cart open.

References:

Ersek, J. L. and Brunner Huber, L. R. Physical activity prior to and during pregnancy and risk of postpartum depressive symptoms. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing, Vol. 38, Sep-Oct 2009, pp. 556-66.

Haas, J. S. et al. Changes in the health status of women during and after pregnancy. Journal of General Internal Medicine, Vol. 20, January 2005, pp. 45-51

Daley, A. J., Macarthur, C. and Winter, H. The role of exercise in treating postpartum depression: a review of the literature. The Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, Vol. 52, Jan-Feb 2007, pp. 56-62.

Dritsa, M. et al. Effects of home-based exercise on fatigue in postpartum depressed women: who is more likely to benefit and why? Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Vol. 67, August 2009, pp. 159-63.

https://www.health.ny.gov/community/pregnancy/health_care/perinatal/perinatal_depression.htm

https://exerciseright.com.au/perinatal-depression

US Preventive Services Task Force

Pearlstein T. (2008). Perinatal depression: treatment options and dilemmas. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience: JPN, 33(4), 302–318.

It’s so important that we keep an open discussion going on about perinatal depression, that those affected can always get the help they need. Start helping by sharing this post on Pinterest.