How To Recognize Postpartum/Perinatal Mood And Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) And How To Seek Help

PMAD postpartum depression

There can be many moments of joy when you have a baby, and equal moments of struggle. Excitement and fulfilment can bubble up in equal measure with confusion, sadness, worry, and exhaustion. 

With hormone spikes and mood swings, it’s normal for birth persons to find themselves on an emotional rollercoaster after their little one arrives. But it’s all new, so how can you know exactly what’s normal—and what to be concerned about?

Here are some signs to watch out for, as well as tips for how to reach out if you’re wondering “Do I have a PMAD (a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder)?

The Baby Blues

Many, if not most, birth persons will experience the baby blues, a short period after birth during which you may feel unhappy, worried, or overwhelmed. The baby blues last up to two to three weeks after giving birth and can be intense. During these first few weeks, you’ll experience the reality of caring for a newborn 24 hours day, a reality that might include sleep deprivation and confusion over how to breastfeed, soothe, or otherwise care for your baby. 

Once you’ve gotten past the first two weeks and are a bit more settled into a routine with your little one, the baby blues should start to fade. Feelings of sadness, anxiety, rage, or mania that last longer than the first two weeks and are affecting your quality of life significantly may indicate a PMAD. PMADs include postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, and psychosis, and can develop within the first year after giving birth.  

Postpartum Depression

While most people will experience baby blues after giving birth, some birth persons may experience significant feelings of hopelessness, apathy, or a loss of interest in things that they used to enjoy. This can be postpartum depression. 

It can be difficult to recognize symptoms of postpartum depression and other PMADs, since they can present differently in different people. Some signs of postpartum depression to look out for include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anger, irritability, guilt, and shame; lack of interest in the baby; appetite or sleep changes; and thoughts of harming the baby or yourself. 

Postpartum Anxiety

A certain amount of worrying is normal after having a baby, but when excessive worry starts to impact your daily functioning, it may be time to seek treatment. 

Symptoms like constant worrying, racing or intrusive thoughts, overwhelming feelings of fear, and physical symptoms like nausea, dizziness, or hot flashes may be signs of postpartum anxiety. 

Seeking Help 

Sometimes, birth persons find it difficult to realize or admit that they’re experiencing a PMAD because they think they should be able to handle their new situation on their own, because they blame themselves that postpartum was not what they expected, or because they don’t want to be labeled as a bad parent. PMADs are not your fault, and you did nothing to bring these feelings upon yourself. 

If your feelings don’t seem to be getting better, the Perinatal Mental Health Discussion Tool from Postpartum Support International is a good way to see if what you’re feeling indicates a PMAD. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is another widely-used tool that can help you determine if you’re experiencing a PMAD. Note that it’s ideal to go through this one with a perinatal professional. Be open with your partner and other support people about your feelings. Keep your care provider (doctor or midwife) informed, too. 

For additional support, contact:

  • National Postpartum Depression Hotline: 800-773-6667
  • Postpartum Support International Warmline: 800-944-4773
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

It can be difficult to deal with a PMAD, and even more difficult to talk about it and seek treatment, especially if you’re wondering “Do I have a PMAD?”. There is no shame in reaching out to your community or professionals for more help. Treatment for PMADs is available, and it can help you get back to feeling like yourself. 

Sources: PSI, CDC