Supporting Women During Pregnancy and Postpartum

By: Pine Rest Staff


Smiling young mother and father holding their babyPostpartum depression and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD) affect up to 20 percent of pregnant women and those who have recently given birth. In fact, postpartum depression is the most common complication following childbirth.

Treatments for these illnesses are very effective and can have women feeling more like themselves again quickly. However, the Center for Disease Control reports that less than half of women with a PMAD receive treatment. Without treatment, PMAD symptoms can continue for months or even years!

Pine Rest is working to educate pregnant women, new moms and their families as well as community members and physicians about the difference between “baby blues” and PMADs, identifying symptoms and the treatments available.

“Baby blues” during the postpartum period are very normal. It’s the time during those first two weeks after giving birth when a mom may feel emotional and overwhelmed, though she should still feel like she is “herself” in her core. If these blues do not resolve OR she does not feel like she is herself anymore, that’s a warning sign that something else could be going on.

Risk Factors for PMAD

While we don’t know all of the reasons why some women develop postpartum depression and other PMADs, some risk factors include:

  • A personal history of depression or other mental health issue
  • Family history of depression or mental health issue
  • A perfectionistic personality
  • Lack of supports
  • Relationship issues
  • Hormonal changes
  • Thyroid issues
  • Recent major changes like a move, death in the family, loss of relationship/job, etc.
  • Additional stress of having a complicated pregnancy, a baby in the NICU, multiples, previous miscarriage(s), stillbirth or infant/child loss

What are Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders?

Most people know about postpartum depression. It’s the most commonly known PMAD, which are actually a cluster of mental health conditions that can occur during pregnancy and postpartum. The term “perinatal” describes this time in a woman’s life. In addition to depression, these conditions are…

  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Psychosis

Symptoms of PMAD

Persistent sadness is certainly one symptom that’s well known, but not all women have sadness as a symptom of depression. Also, sadness is not necessarily a symptom of PMAD either.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Not bonding with baby
  • Feeling “overly bonded” or excessively worried about baby (checking on all the time, etc.)
  • Feeling overwhelmed or “empty”
  • Experiencing scary thoughts
  • Crying episodes
  • Panic attacks
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Avoidant behaviors/isolating from friends and family
  • Persistent self-doubt
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating patterns
  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, guilt
  • Experiencing irritable and/or angry moods
  • Fear of being alone with baby
  • Fear of being separated from baby
  • Problems with concentration or making simple decisions

If a woman is having any of these symptoms, she should get in touch with her physician or a mental health provider as soon as possible. If she doesn’t already have a provider, make sure to ask new providers if they have experience working with women during pregnancy and postpartum and how comfortable are they to prescribe medications to women who are pregnant and/or nursing.

Pine Rest Mother and Baby Program

Mother lying next to her infant and smiling at each otherThe Mother and Baby partial hospitalization/day program works with pregnant women and moms up to three year postpartum. Women can bring their infant up to 8 months of age to daily treatment. A nursery, kitchen and nursery attendant are provided. If she wants to, a mom can bring her infant into therapy sessions. The group room is connected to the nursery and has a window so moms can check on babies or bring them in and out at any time.

The program provides daily intensive treatment – including psychiatry, group therapy, coping skills, activity therapy, family and/or support person education class, mother baby bonding and discharge planning to ensure that moms have outpatient therapy and medication management when they leave. The group aspect of the program is very helpful and comforting; by connecting with each other, women realize they are not alone.

Since it opened in 2012, the Mother and Baby Program has provided healing for close to 2,000 families. Although most women come from the West Michigan area, some travel from as far away as Northern Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and even Canada. When started, the program was only the second in the country. Now there are just over 20 programs in the country, but Pine Rest’s is the only one in Michigan.

How family members can support Mom (and the whole family)

If you’re concerned about a new mom, try to find practical ways to help mom her with everyday activities. This kind of help is vital a mom during pregnancy and after baby arrives. Offer to do a specific task like, can I…

  • Bring dinner on Thursday?
  • Drive the kids to school next week?
  • Take a night shift with the baby so you can sleep?
  • Come over tomorrow afternoon so you can take a nap?
  • Pick up some groceries for you?
  • Coordinate friends and family to bring meals for the next two weeks?

Your help not only makes her feel supported, but also creates a space for you to talk to her about your concerns. She may be waiting for someone to validate her struggle and notice that she needs help. Never forget helping mom helps baby, too.

PMAD Resources

Pine Rest has many resources to learn more about PMADs, treatment options, how to support mom (and the whole family) and more.

You are not alone! Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders are the #1 complication of pregnancy. Pine Rest has innovative, proven programs to help you feel like yourself again.

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