Becoming a parent is considered one of the most significant points of change in our lives. The change in our identity from being someone’s child to becoming someone’s parent is a large step. It can be a very exciting event and can also bring about many other emotions as we navigate the evolution of this new life coming into the world and the new version of life we are experiencing.
Due to the nature of these changes to our identity, family dynamics, health, lifestyle, relationships, etc., we are at risk of experiencing mental health challenges. We can often forget that this is a complex experience, and it is very normal to feel other emotions during this process. Here are a few important things to know when it comes to mental health during the time of pregnancy through one year postpartum, also known as the perinatal period.
Period of Adjustment
When we experience a significant life event, it is very common to experience symptoms of stress. Of course, you’re likely to experience an increase in anxiety when caring for a brand new human being. It makes sense you feel more irritable than before, if you are not able to sleep for consistent stretches of time. It’s also very likely you are having some anxious thoughts in anticipation of a birth experience. When we take a step back, it all makes sense to have these feelings. It’s important to know though that just because these feelings are common, does not mean you have to experience this alone or couldn’t benefit from support.
Both Parents Can Be Affected
Many people assume when we’re talking about pregnancy and postpartum that the mother is the only person affected by this change, however, it’s important to know that fathers can also experience difficulties. One in 10 fathers will report symptoms of depression and anxiety during the perinatal period. Those symptoms may look differently in each parent. Pay attention to behaviors such as isolating, lack of interest, low motivation, excessive worry, anger, guilt or increase in substance use. Check out Postpartum Support International (postpartum.net) for more information on symptoms to look for and resources for help.
Know Your Risk Factors
Everyone can experience mental health concerns during the perinatal period; no one is risk free. It’s important to know though, there are risk factors that can increase the likelihood you could experience symptoms more problematic than adjusting. Some examples of risk factors to developing Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) are previous history of mental health concerns, history of abuse, financial stress, experiencing prolonged labor or birth trauma, family history, relationship concerns, breastfeeding difficulties, little or no support, etc.
How Do I Know If I Need Help?
Seeking out support at any point in the perinatal period can be preventative of developing symptoms or worsening of symptoms. When considering if your experience is more than just adjustment, note frequency, intensity and duration of the symptoms. For example, when noting the symptom of irritability, it can be helpful to ask questions such as, how often am I feeling irritable? How intense is that feeling when it happens on a scale of 1-10? How long do my moments of irritability seem to last? This information can be helpful when making the decision to seek out help, as well as communicating with your provider about how you are feeling.
What Type of Help is Out There?
When it comes to support for the new parent during the perinatal period, there are many different types. It’s most helpful to have a variety of support.
- Mental health therapists can specialize in this population; if you notice the credentials PMH-C behind someone’s name, that means they are certified in perinatal mental health.
- There are many different types of support groups such as: pregnancy, postpartum, Dads, etc.
- Meetup groups for new parents, such as stroller meetups or playdate meetups.
- Many different providers can be helpful with various concerns during this experience: OBs, pediatricians, chiropractors, pelvic floor physical therapists, lactation consultants, and doulas, to list a few.
- Informative resources such as podcasts, books and social media accounts.
It’s important to know that wherever you are in the perinatal period, you may be experiencing many emotions and changes, and having extra support can make a huge difference in the experience. You’re not alone either; there are people that understand and can help you feel better.