When thinking about possibly having a baby, there are many considerations that couples (and individuals) make. They might think about where they would want to raise a child (in terms of physical dwelling as well as their community); the financial aspect of having children; and their reasons for having kids. There might be some fun kinds of thoughts, such as what a future child’s name might be. Rarely on the list of considerations is whether or not someone will experience a perinatal mental health concern, such as post-partum anxiety.
Perinatal mental health (mental health conditions that occur during pregnancy and the first year postpartum) tend to get lumped into the catch all of “postpartum depression”. Certainly, postpartum depression has gained awareness as celebrities have shared their struggles and it can impact 1 in 8 women. Postpartum anxiety, a “cousin” to postpartum depression seems to be gaining traction in who it impacts, affecting nearly 1 in 7 women, yet is rarely spoken about. We have increased the awareness of postpartum depression and who might be at risk without also doing so for other perinatal mental health concerns.
The risk factors for postpartum anxiety are similar to those of postpartum depression, and just because a person recognizes a risk factor (or even several) does NOT necessarily mean that you will struggle with postpartum anxiety, however, it might elevate your risk. Common risk factors include:
- Personal history of anxiety prior to pregnancy or during pregnancy
- Family history of anxiety
- Personal or family history of a perinatal mental health issue
- Previous mood reaction to hormonal changes (puberty, PMS, birth control, PMDD)
- History of endocrine dysfunction (thyroid imbalance, diabetes)
- Previous pregnancy or infant loss
- Becoming pregnant during teenage years
- Lower socio-economic status
- No social support (friends, family…)
- Crisis in job, housing, finances
If risk factors pertain to a person, it is important that the parent-to-be and partner think through a postpartum plan. This might mean meeting with a qualified mental health professional prior to or during pregnancy to help map out managing a potential postpartum anxiety episode and to teach (or remind) of coping skills to manage anxiety. It might also mean education around what perinatal anxiety can look like. The good news is that postpartum and perinatal anxiety are highly treatable conditions that do not have to linger.
Dr. Julie Bindeman is a Reproductive Psychologist and Co-Director at Integrative Therapy of Greater Washington, near Washington, DC. She actively participates in organizations like the Maryland Psychological Association, American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Uprooted, Postpartum Support International, and Path2Parenthood. Dr. Bindeman specializes in reproductive health aspects, including pregnancy planning, fertility, perinatal loss, mood disorders, and birth trauma. She frequently writes and presents on these subjects and serves as the Healthcare Director for ReconceivingLoss.com.