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Understanding Postpartum Mood Disorders
May 3, 2017 7:10 am | by
Understanding mood disorders - and how to get help when needed.

The number one complication from childbirth is not pelvic floor damage, hip pain, or cesarean scarring. The number one complication from childbirth is postpartum mood disorders. Postpartum Mood Disorder or PMD is the umbrella term used to describe postpartum depression, anxiety, and psychosis. PMD’s are different from the baby blues most experience.

During pregnancy your hormones are at an all time high. These hormones help the baby develop, the placenta to do it’s job, and the body change to accommodate pregnancy. After delivery of the baby and placenta, those hormones leave the body, and it can be quite a drastic change. At day 3 postpartum, there is a large drop in hormones.

Through the next 2 weeks, it is very common for the birthing person to be highly emotional, cry at the littlest things, and not be completely rational. Hormones, sleep deprivation, and the new overwhelming responsibility of parenthood culminate in this perfect storm that is called the Baby Blues. Usually these hormones regulate within about 2 weeks and these symptoms all but disappear.

However, sometimes a person’s feelings do not follow the typical pattern. This unusual feeling can become a postpartum mood disorder. Postpartum Mood Disorders will linger after that 2 weeks and sometimes will not show up until well into the first year.

Risk Factors for Postpartum Mood Disorders

While some PMD’s show up without any indication, there are some factors that may increase your risk. The following are some factors to take into consideration. If you fall into any of these categories, please find and start working with a therapist during your pregnancy.

  • People with a history of mental illnesses either for themselves or family
  • Those who have undergone IVF or other fertility treatments
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
  • Financial Stress
  • Marital stress (or lack of a supportive partner)
  • Complications in pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding
  • A recent major life change; job, moving, death, divorce, etc.
  • Parents of multiples (twins, triplets, etc)
  • Parents of babies that went to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit)

How to Recognize Postpartum Mood Disorders

When helping clients prepare for the postpartum period, we discuss the signs of Postpartum Mood Disorders. Sometimes it is very obvious; the caregiver hasn’t showered in days, cries at the drop of a hat, doesn’t laugh at what they usually do, and isn’t finding joy in the baby or anything else. In rare cases, they might talk about wanting to hurt the baby or themselves.

Sometimes it is not as obvious. They might fear walking with the baby, being alone with the baby, or driving with the baby. They might be filled with anger and rage and seem to have a flame that is ignited with seemingly no reason.

A common misconception as well is that only the birthing person can have postpartum mood disorders. Both parents are susceptible to PMD’s. It can really hit the supporting partner because up to this point, the baby has been an abstract object. The partner can go to work or go about their day and not think about the baby. Suddenly, the baby is here and there is more responsibility for the other parent to think about. This can be extremely overwhelming and the anxiety can rise substantially.

What to do if you or your loved one has a postpartum mood disorder?

If all of this seems overwhelming, take heart; there is much you can do.

One of the biggest reasons for postpartum mood disorders is lack of sleep. If you can find and hire a postpartum doula, this could be a tremendous support. Postpartum Doulas come into your home and help with whatever tasks need to be done to help you get sleep and recover from giving birth. Finding a doula is relatively easy and is recommended to do prenatally. Because you don’t know if you will suffer from PMD’s, it is good to make plans early. Look for internationally recognized doula networks like DTI (Doula Trainings International), CAPPA, and DONA as they will have information to help you find a doula in your area.

There are many international, national, and local resources to help those suffering from postpartum mood disorders.

  • PSI International:
  • Marce Society:
  • Online PPD support:
  • PTSD After Childbirth:
  • Childbirth PTSD:
  • Selena Institute:
  • Women’s Mental Health:
  • Tessera Collective: — specifically for parents of color

The most important piece to remember is you are not alone. Postpartum Mood Disorders can feel so isolating. You can feel like there is something really wrong with you. But they are more common than anyone realizes.

*Statistics and Data taken from Postpartum Support International

About the Author

Kim is a birth and postpartum doula in Austin, Texas. She is the Mom to 6 children and has experienced both cesarean birth and home birth. She is a champion for VBAC's and postpartum support. In her free time (ha!) she likes to knit, sew, read, write, and take long walks with her podcasts. You can find her on Instagram at @kimborchert.


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