February 23, 2024
How to notice, manage birth-related mental health issues

A Maryland obstetrician wants new moms to know that if they’re struggling, it’s OK to get help.

A new maternal mental health hotline is now up and running, in time for  Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month this May. And a Maryland obstetrician wants new moms to know that if they’re struggling, it’s OK to get help.

“Many women honestly don’t seek out help for the symptoms because they do feel like, ‘Well, I just had a baby, I’m supposed to be able to do this,’” said Dr. Carla Sandy, an OB-GYN at Kaiser Permanente in Silver Spring.

Sandy said a majority of women experience some type of mental health challenge after delivery; it lasts for about two weeks.

“But some women continue, and the mental health challenges become a little more severe. And we call those perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and also postpartum depression,” she said.

Symptoms of mood disorders or depression are very similar to the symptoms and feelings that women have from simply having a baby. These include feeling a little down, feeling fatigue or feeling anxiety. The concern is when those feelings become severe and they persist.

Dr. Carla Sandy is an OB-GYN at Kaiser Permanente in Silver Spring. (Courtesy Kaiser Permanente)

These symptoms should be cause for concern if they last longer than two weeks:

  • Feeling sad or depressed.
  • Being very irritable.
  • Angry with those around you.
  • Having difficulty bonding with your baby.
  • Feeling anxious.
  • Having a panic attack.
  • Struggling with eating or sleeping.
  • Having upsetting thoughts.
  • Feeling as if you’re out of control.
  • Thinking you never should have had a baby.

“If you’re with a loved one who’s recently given birth, and you’re noticing any of those symptoms, if you have any concern at all, it’s OK, I give you permission to check in with your loved one and also to seek out a care provider who can assist,” Sandy said.

She recommends being transparent and honest. Say you’ve noticed they may be struggling and you’re concerned. “And honestly, most women are going to feel relief that someone sees them, and is hearing them, and is seeking to help them,” Sandy said.

Research suggests that postpartum depression is triggered by changes in hormones and that women experiencing it are sensitive to those changes, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. NIMH is working to learn more about the causes of, treatments for, and genetic factors in postpartum depression, and it’s recruiting women who’ve had it to participate in the study. You can learn more by calling 301-496-9576.

“About one in five women is affected by maternal mental health conditions. And that can include depression, anxiety and all the other different types of mental health issues,” Sandy said. “It’s important to know: one, it’s normal; two, it’s common; and three, help is available.”

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department just launched a confidential, toll-free hotline with counselors available to provide mental health support for expectant and new moms experiencing mental health challenges.

The Maternal Mental Health Hotline can be reached by phone or text at 833-9-HELP4MOMS (833-943-5746) in both English and Spanish. TTY users can use a preferred relay service or dial 711 and then 833-943-5746.

The hotline isn’t intended for use as an emergency response line. People in crisis are encouraged to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).