COVID-19: Postpartum and peripartum mood disorders

postpartum and peripartum mood disorders

Being pregnant or becoming a new mom are two life events that bring a lot of joy, change and uncertainty.

In addition to managing your own personal needs, you now have another person’s needs to think about.

Add to this the changing hormone levels that accompany pregnancy and the weeks following delivery. On top of that, many new moms are unable to get the rest they need to fully recover from giving birth. Constant sleep deprivation can lead to physical discomfort and exhaustion.

It’s easy to see why pregnancy and the postpartum period are a time when women are susceptible to mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

Major life changes brought on by the COVID-19 global pandemic may increase anxiety and social isolation, which can also impact a woman’s mental health.

Many women may wonder if their feelings are normal, if they are just “the baby blues,” or if they are actually experiencing true depression or anxiety.

What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that can affect pregnant women and new moms. Up to 1 in 7 women will experience postpartum depression, and its effects can be felt during pregnancy or after birth.

Peripartum mood disorders like postpartum depression can manifest themselves as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or in rare cases, psychosis.

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

The term “baby blues” is used to describe feelings of worry, unhappiness, and fatigue many women experience after having a baby. These feelings are normal! Babies require a lot of care, and it’s normal for moms to be worried about or tired from providing that care.

The baby blues include feelings that are somewhat mild, last a week or two, and go away on their own. Eating well and taking a break or a nap usually helps.

Unlike the baby blues, postpartum depression is a serious condition that won’t go away on its own. It can interfere with your ability to take care of your baby or yourself.

Risk factors for 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 mom or baby
  • Mixed feelings about the pregnancy
  • Isolation or lack of emotional support from family or friends
  • Alcohol or drug abuse problems

How do I know if I have postpartum depression?

Always talk to your provider about any feelings of anxiety or depression you experience after you have your baby. If what you are feeling is postpartum depression, your provider will diagnose and provide the needed resources.

Symptoms of postpartum depression

  • Having trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with the 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 (difficulty understanding what’s real and what’s not)

Symptoms of postpartum anxiety

  • Abnormal worrying about the baby
  • Terrified of hurting the baby
  • Panic attacks

Symptoms 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

Overcoming postpartum depression during COVID-19: Natalie's experience

Natalie Johnson had a high-risk pregnancy and delivered her baby earlier this year — all during the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnson had surgery during her pregnancy and had to be on bed rest at the hospital for a month. Her baby was born early and had to spend time in the NICU. She and her husband also have two other children.

Moms with added stresses such as these are at a higher risk for postpartum depression and anxiety. For Johnson, the anxiety and depression hit after she realized that she would be on bed rest at the hospital for an extended period of time, away from her family. The COVID-19 pandemic also added its own levels of stress.

“The pandemic added some additional dynamics,” said Johnson. “My husband and I had to be really careful to stay healthy, but we also had to rely on a lot of babysitters. My husband was somewhat anxious as well. We had a lot of life changes happening.”

Because Johnson’s pregnancy was high risk, she met regularly with Dr. Helen Feltovich, a maternal medicine specialist, in addition to her OBGYN.

“After my first visit with Dr. Feltovich, I trusted her,” Johnson said. “She saw the whole picture. She recognized the mental part of things and that a long hospital stay during COVID-19 would be challenging.”

All Intermountain Healthcare providers are trained in an integrated mental health model, which means primary care physicians (including OBs who deliver babies) routinely screen patients for mental health concerns as well as treating their medical concerns. This proactive approach helps identify any issues in the early stages and aims to prevent things from developing into larger conditions.

Johnson felt especially cared for when nurses and other caregivers at the hospital and clinic would ask her if she had mental health concerns. In addition to her medical caregivers, Johnson’s strong support system of friends and family have stepped up to help during this difficult time. All of this support has allowed Johnson to successfully manage her postpartum depression and anxiety.

Getting help for your postpartum depression

Talk to your OB or primary care physician about your mental health today

Be open and honest with how you are feeling and never be afraid to ask for help. Intermountain has integrated mental health screening into primary care. Even if you don’t have insurance, there are resources available.

Call the Intermountain Emotional Health Relief Hotline at 833-442-2211

The Intermountain Emotional Health Relief Hotline is free and can be reached seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. MST. It connects callers with a trained care coordinator who can provide appropriate self-care tools, peer support, treatment options, crisis resources, and more.

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 a day.

Visit intermountainhealthcare.org for more information.