Postpartum Depression: What New Parents and Those Who Care about Them REALLY Need to Know


When writing a blog post about an illness that affects 1 of 7 women and 1 of 10 men during the most transforming period of their lives, it is difficult to decide which 600 words to include and what thousands of words to exclude. Let me start with the basics and then we’ll get to the really good stuff.

What is a Perinatal Mood Disorder?

Typically, we read about baby blues and postpartum depression, which are well known, but new parents can also experience excessive worry (anxiety), thoughts that won’t go away (obsessions), or overwhelming feelings to perform seemingly unnecessary actions (compulsions). These illnesses are called perinatal mood disorders. There are many resources available to help you recognize symptoms of mood disorders, and here is a great place to start: The Symptoms of Postpartum Depression & Anxiety (in Plain Mama English). For many moms, the most disturbing symptom is the presence of scary thoughts, especially about their babies. It’s often that symptom alone that scares women into not getting help. These thoughts are a symptom of the illness; they are not you.

Postpartum psychosis affects about 1 in 1000 women. It is also well known, but not well understood by the public and often misrepresented in the media. These are the stories you hear on the news of mothers harming their babies, and they are often mislabeled as depression. Postpartum depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) do not turn into psychosis. Postpartum psychosis is a separate, also treatable, illness. You can read more here: Postpartum Psychosis Symptoms (in Plain Mama English).

No matter which illness you may be suffering from, if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, get help right away. Have someone come sit with you until you can get to your therapist or doctor, call 9-1-1, call 1.800.332.4224 (in Iowa), or go to the emergency room. You will feel better when you get the support you need and deserve.

Now, the good stuff as promised.

What You Need to Know about Perinatal Mood Disorders

I’ve been asking myself and my colleagues, “What are the most important things new parents, and those who care for them, need to know about perinatal mood disorders?” And, here they are.

First, you should know that you are at risk. Every mother and father, adoptive or biological, is at risk. Risk factors include the following:

  • personal or family history of depression or anxiety
  • lack of support
  • severe PMS
  • complicated or difficult pregnancy, labor, birth
  • poor diet or severe morning sickness
  • oral contraceptive use or Depo-Provera shot soon after delivery
  • stress: money, relationship, work (Okay, now we’re all covered.)

You can find more information and a risk assessment here. Knowing that we are all at risk, it’s important to watch for symptoms, and after reading this blog post, you’ll know what to do if or when you identify them in yourself or a loved one.

Postpartum Depression: What New Parents REALLY Need to Know

Second, you should know that having a perinatal mood disorder says nothing about who you are as a person or about how well you are doing as a mom. It simply means you have a treatable illness. Instead of going on and on about that – and I could – I’m going to ask you to reread those two sentences one more time, very slowly.

Third, you should know that help is available, now more than ever. You have several options and you will find which combination of the following works best for you. You might start by asking for help from friends, family, and your community. Let people take care of you. Focus on getting support that will help you eat well, sleep well, and get some physical activity. If your symptoms aren’t severe, increasing your support might be all you need.

If you don’t know whether your symptoms are severe or not, find a therapist you trust to help you determine this. We know what it is you are experiencing and we know how to help you feel better. You can ask for a recommendation from friends, search for someone who lists PMD (perinatal mood disorders) or PPD (postpartum depression) as a specialty or area of focus, or find them through these resource pages: Iowa Birth Organization, Postpartum Support International, and The Postpartum Stress Center. Remember, this is an illness. We would ride out a two- or three-day cold, but if we had the flu and couldn’t eat for a week, we would seek help.

You may decide to include medication as part of your treatment. You can talk to your family doctor or psychiatrist about your options. For so many reasons, this is often a tough decision for mothers. That requires a blog post of its own. If you are worried about breastfeeding and medication, here is a great resource.

  • To read more about postpartum depression, I recommend anything by Karen Kleiman. You can find more information here.
  • For more information on mood disorder for new fathers, look here.
  • To find online support, go here.

Meet Guest Blogger Michelle Gossen

Michelle Gossen headshotMichelle is a wife, mom, helper, and birth enthusiast. She works for Optimae Life Services in Mount Pleasant as a therapist and has a background in Early Childhood Education. Michelle has studied and received training in perinatal mood disorders and is looking forward to serving mothers in southeast Iowa. As the vice president of Iowa Birth Organization, Michelle is passionate about improving care for pregnant, birthing, and postpartum moms in our state. When she’s not helping, she enjoys fun on the river with her boys, thrifty decorating, and guacamole. One of her favorite things in life is an honest and transparent conversation with a friend, and that is what she hopes you will experience when you read her posts.




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