May 1st is National Maternal Mental Health Awareness Day and the first week of May is dedicated to Maternal Mental Health, which recognizes the seriousness of depression, and mental health during and after pregnancy. Each year the theme changes, however the blue dot, the international symbol for Maternal Mental Health, is shared on memes used during the campaign to bring continuity to the images and raise awareness of the symbol. Many mothers will agree that motherhood is the hardest but most joyous part of life. Raising a child is exhausting, exhilarating and the maternal bond with that child is special beyond words. However maternal depression is a serious issue that often is not talked about in society, pushed under the rug and as a result, many mothers suffer in silence. Studies have shown that mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression impact 15-20 percent of women during pregnancy and the postpartum period. The combination of the physical stress on the body from childbirth, fluctuating hormones in pregnancy and the emotional and mental stress that comes with taking care of a newborn all contribute to the development of mental health disorders in new moms.

What we have known for some time is that the mental health needs of pregnant and new mothers are not being addressed adequately. We must work with systems, organizations, and individuals who are providing care to mothers and families during pregnancy and the postpartum period so that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are identified and addressed in a timely and culturally appropriate manner.

Risk factors associated with perinatal mood disorders

There are a large number of other risk factors that predispose a woman to the onset of a perinatal mood disorder including but not limited to:

  • Personal and/or family history of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or other mental illness.
  • Untreated postpartum depression during or following previous pregnancies.
  • Significant mood changes around the menstrual cycle.
  • Depression during the current pregnancy, which is the most significant predictor of postpartum depression.
  • Past or current pregnancy loss.
  • Unexpected difficulties during labor and delivery.
  • History of trauma including physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
  • Current stresses related to finances, legal concerns, immigration and/or interpersonal relationships.
  • Women of every culture, age, race and income level can develop perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Symptoms can appear anytime during pregnancy and the first 12 months after childbirth.

Warning signs associated with postpartum mental health:

  • Feelings of sadness or depression
  • Feelings of irritability or anger around others
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Feeling anxious or panicky
  • Difficulty eating and/or sleeping
  • Experiencing upsetting thoughts that you cannot erase from your mind
  • Feelings of regret about becoming a mother
  • Thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself
  • Thoughts of wanting to harm your baby

Resources for moms who are struggling with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders

  • The Blue Dot Project: Founded by Peggy O’Neil Nosti, a mom who suffered from postpartum anxiety with her third child, the Blue Dot Project aims to Raise awareness of maternal mental health disorders, proliferate the blue dot as the symbol of solidarity and support, combat stigma and shame.
  • Post Partum Support International (PSI) educates families and professionals about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including risk factors, symptoms and treatments. Training for professionals provided by PSI is designed to equip frontline providers with the skills necessary to assess, treat and care for moms who have perinatal health complications.
  • Maternal Mental Health Now: A grassroots organization that advocates for maternal mental health screening and providing treatment to mothers who have been diagnosed with maternal depression or anxiety.