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Perinatal and Postpartum Mental Health


What is Perinatal and Postpartum Mental Health:

Perinatal mental health refers to the mental health during a woman’s pregnancy and the postpartum period. During pregnancy and after the birth of a child, mild changes to mood and anxiety can be experienced, with 15-20% of women experiencing significant symptoms. A combination of hormonal changes, life changes (i.e. sleep deprivation), relationship changes, societal pressures, and responsibility changes play a role in the impact on women during and after pregnancy. Women of every age, culture, race, and income level are at risk to develop perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Symptoms can appear during pregnancy and/or in the first 12 months after childbirth. With informed care and support, the worsening of symptoms is not only treatable but mental health maintenance can be restored. There are several subtypes of perinatal mental health disorders including: Prenatal and postpartum depression; prenatal and postpartum anxiety; and prenatal and postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder.

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  • Crying and sadness
  • Appetite and sleep disturbance
  • Feelings of anger, irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, shame
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Loss of interest, joy, or pleasure in the things you used to enjoy
  • Lack of interest in the baby
  • Thoughts of harming the baby or yourself
  • Excessive worry
  • Feeling that something bad will happen
  • Physical symptoms can include nausea, dizziness, hot flashes
  • Panic attacks- shortness of breath, chest pain, feeling of losing control, dizziness
  • Racing thoughts
  • Lack of concentration
  • Difficulty sitting still
  • Appetite and sleep disturbance


Obsession Symptoms:

  • Excessive worrying about something you did or didn’t do – ex: worrying about not locking the doors, not sterilizing a baby bottle correctly, taking a medication that could harm the fetus
  • Intense fear about germs – ex: worrying that your baby will be harmed by contamination
  • Perfectionism – ex: trying to do everything “just right”
  • Thoughts (or images) of harming self or others- ex: accidentally or deliberately harming your baby, having sexual and violent intrusive thoughts

Compulsion Symptoms:

  • Checking – ex: repeatedly and excessively checking that your baby is breathing, checking that the oven is turned off
  • Reassurance seeking – ex: repeatedly and excessively asking other people that no harm or abuse has been committed
  • Avoidance – ex: avoid being alone with the baby for fear of harming the baby, avoid changing diapers for fear of sexually abusing a child, hiding sharp objects in the home
  • Correcting obsessional thoughts – ex: sanitizing your baby’s belongings excessively, counting or saying a special word to prevent bad things from happening

Other symptoms:

  • Feelings of anxiety, fear, guilt, disgust, and/or sadness



Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective and well-researched treatment option to help women with PPD, PPA, and PPOCD. CBT gives an individual the skills to change their thinking and behaviors that play a role in depression, anxiety, and OCD. CBT not only uses assessment to learn more about the disorder and the individual herself, but also provides education to help understand and cope with the thoughts, feelings, and transition. With the support of a therapist, an individual will explore thought patterns and implement new behavioral practices. For example, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).

Prenatal and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are treatable. If you may be suffering from one of these disorders, know that it is not your fault, and support is here for you. Working with a trained mental health professional can provide you with a safe, nonjudgmental space to talk about your feelings and set realistic goals to manage prenatal and postpartum mental health disorders.

For More Information:
Postpartum Support International
International OCD Foundation Resources Postpartum OCD Fact Sheet

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