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Healthy Beginnings: Understanding Perinatal Mood Disorders


Kathy Greenberg, R.N., B.S.N., C.C.E., C.B.C.

“A new baby is like the beginning of all things-wonder, hope, a dream of possibilities,” said Eda J. Le Shan. Most families excitedly prepare for bringing a new life into the world expecting the wonder, hope and great possibilities. However, having a baby also brings with it unexpected changes and families may find themselves wondering, “Why didn’t anyone warn me it could be so hard?”  

The “emotional roller-coaster” that mothers often experience following birth is a normal consequence of the fluctuations in hormones, lack of sleep, and physical and psychological demands faced by the new mother. Up to 80 percent will experience the “baby blues.”

Fortunately for most, within a few weeks, the weepiness, irritability and frustration will cease. However, these symptoms may persist or intensify, resulting in even more questions like what is wrong with me or will I ever feel normal again?

Postpartum depression affects up to 20 percent of new mothers, with symptoms like sadness, despair, hopelessness and irritability. Although many have heard of postpartum depression, most still do not understand the wide spectrum of emotional disorders that can seriously interfere with the family’s postpartum experience. 

The term Perinatal Mood Disorders (PMD) describes disorders which occur during pregnancy and/or throughout the first year after the birth of a baby and affect approximately 1 in every 1,000 women. In Arizona, an estimated 20,000 women will experience a PMD each year. PMD has been called the most common complication associated with childbirth. 

These disorders include depression and anxiety in pregnancy, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder, postpartum panic disorder and the rare postpartum psychosis. Symptoms for these disorders may range from mild to severe.

When a mother experiences PMD, the entire family suffers. Maternal depression is the number one factor associated with future cognitive and behavioral problems in a newborn. Also, the first year after a baby is born has the highest divorce rate in couple’s lives. The good news is, with proper identification and understanding PMD is nearly 100-percent treatable!

Families can prepare for the possibility of a PMD before the baby comes: screenings are available during pregnancy at physician’s offices and following childbirth before discharge from the hospital; websites like postpartum.net provide education; request support from friends, family or the faith community; ask for more information from physicians or therapists; and where available, a join a postpartum support group. Contact a postpartum support volunteer by visiting the Arizona Postpartum Wellness Coalition’s website at azpostpartum.org or call toll-free the postpartum warm-line at 888-434-MOMS.

Through awareness and education, families may be able to expect a healthy “beginning of all things” and find peace in the words of an unknown author, "A baby will make love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, bankroll smaller, home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten and the future worth living for.”

Flagstaff Medical Center offers a free weekly Pregnancy and Postpartum Adjustment Group for women and their families experiencing PMD. For more information and to register, call 773-2319 or 773-2309.

Kathy Greenberg, RN, BSN, CCE, CBC, is the Childbirth Education Coordinator at Flagstaff Medical Center.



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