VICENZA, Italy — “The strength of our troops relies on the strength and the stability of the Families that support them.” — Michelle Obama, 2011 summit.
For a long time, pregnancy was thought to be a time of clinical well-being. For some people, though, it may bring about feelings of despair, unhappiness and/or provoke anxiety. Mood and anxiety disorders can occur at any time during pregnancy and up until one year postpartum. Not uncommonly, the struggle with these factors can create a foundation for developing mood or anxiety disorders.
Pregnancy causes changes in a woman’s natural hormones. During this time, protective hormones increase as the body first adapts to pregnancy, followed by a sudden drop in hormonal levels after delivery. These hormone levels are closely linked to the “feel good” neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.
These hormone fluctuations are thought to destabilize the “feel good” system, resulting in postpartum blues or depression. Knowing the cause of these behavior and mood changes is important, just as knowing the symptoms of postpartum blues and postpartum depression in order to seek help.
Symptoms of postpartum blues are temporary, lasting no more than two weeks. This response to hormonal changes in the body occurs in up to 80 percent of all postpartum patients, is not a disorder, and resolves on its own.
Postpartum depression, however, has some different symptoms. Women may feel overwhelming anxiety, pathological self-doubt and despair, inability to enjoy or interact with the infant, guilt and shame. When a new mother is experiencing these symptoms, waiting to see if it resolves on its own is not the answer.
“Postpartum depression is a crippling mood disorder, historically neglected in health care, leaving mothers to suffer in fear, confusion and silence, which is why I have described it as ‘a thief that steals motherhood,’” said Cheryl Beck, DSNc, CNM, FAAN.
It is important to be honest with your medical care provider. Do not belittle your feelings. Speak up because the feelings do not mean something is “wrong” with you. They are a result of a chemical change, which a medical team can help you to resolve and feel better.
Perinatal mental health is an expanding field that is important to recognize, especially given its impact on the military Family. The Soldier cannot be ready and focus on his or her training and mission if the whole Family is not ready and doing well at home.
If you or your spouse are having any of the symptoms mentioned above, reach out and get help together as a Family.
David Hodson has a doctorate in Educational Leadership and is an Advance Practice Nurse in Adult Psychiatric Mental Health for the Vicenza Multi-D Behavioral Health Clinic. He has more than 40 years of clinical experience.