Postpartum depression amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Being pregnant or being a new mom means making a lot of changes. You now have another person’s needs to care for and think about, besides managing your own personal needs. 

Plus, when you’re pregnant and after you deliver your baby, your hormone levels are changing. On top of that, many new mothers are unable to get the rest they need to fully recover from giving birth. Constant sleep deprivation can lead to physical discomfort and exhaustion.

For all of these reasons, pregnancy and the postpartum period are a time when women are susceptible to mood disorders like depression and anxiety.

Add to that, the COVID-19 global pandemic, which may increase anxiety and social isolation, and that’s a lot of things that can factor into a woman’s mental health. Many women may wonder if their feelings are normal, or if they are just the baby blues, or if they may be experiencing true depression or anxiety.

Postpartum depression is common

Up to 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression. A better term is actually postpartum mood disorders, because mood disorders can manifest not only as depression, but in other ways like anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder, even psychosis.

Risk factors for postpartum depression

Postpartum depression can be debilitating. If you have any of the risk factors below, talk to your doctor about steps you can take early in your pregnancy to cope with postpartum depression.

  • Previous mental illness or family history of mental illness
  • A stressful life event during pregnancy or soon after birth (job change, moving, divorce, death of a loved one)
  • Traumatic labor and delivery or medical complications of mother or baby
  • Mixed feelings about the pregnancy
  • Isolation or lack of emotional support from family or friends
  • Alcohol or drug abuse problems
  • Medical complications add a level of stress. Stress can put people over the edge, especially in vulnerable populations. 

How is postpartum depression different from the "baby blues"?

The “baby blues” is used to describe feelings of worry, unhappiness, and fatigue many women experience after having a baby. Babies require a lot of care, so it’s normal for mothers to be worried about or tired from providing that care. Baby blues includes feelings that are somewhat mild, last a week or two, and go away on their own. Doing things like taking a break or a nap and eating well usually help.

It's okay to talk about your mental health with your doctor.

Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your provider about anxiety or depression. It’s ok to ask   questions. The world is uncertain right now. Help is everywhere. Just open your mouth and ask.

Anxiety is like a virus and runs around and attaches to whatever it wants. Under normal conditions, women are somewhat socially isolated when they have a baby. They’ve taken time off work or quit their job and are spending more time at home. Isolation is different right now, because everyone is isolated.

Many women have anxiety about who to let in delivery room. For many women, it’s a blessing to have just their partner present. For some they may be disappointed that others can’t be there. But they are forging new ways to feel connected by using technology at the hospital and after they return home.

How to know if you or a loved one should see a behavioral health provider

Symptoms of postpartum depression that need urgent treatment

  • Having trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with your baby
  • Persistently doubting your ability to care for your baby
  • Never feeling good
  • Thinking about harming yourself or your baby.
  • Experiencing anger or rage
  • Fear of taking medications
  • Psychosis – thoughts that are irrational

Signs of postpartum anxiety 

  • Worry more than normal about the newborn
  • Terrified of hurting the baby
  • Panic attacks 

Signs of obsessive-compulsive disorders postpartum

  • Obsessed with checking things over and over
  • Irrationally concerned about baby’s safety or wellness
  • Intrusive thoughts become prevalent and occur often
  • Taking action to avoid intrusive thoughts

Where to get help if you don't have a behavioral health provider?

  1. Talk to your OB or primary care physician about your mental health and ask for a referral. Intermountain has integrated mental health screening into primary care. There are resources available even if you don’t have insurance. 
  2. Call the Intermountain's Behavioral Health Navigation Service at 833-442-2211. It’s free and can be reached seven days a week from 10 am to 10 pm. It connects callers with a trained care coordinator who can provide appropriate self-care tools, peer support, treatment options, crisis resources, and more.
  3. Go to an Intermountain Behavioral Health Access Center. Intermountain LDS Hospital in Salt Lake, McKay Dee Hospital in Ogden and Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George offer walk in behavioral health access centers that are open 24 hours. Check with other Intermountain behavioral health locations to see if they have urgent appointments available.