Pregnancy Mental Health Series: An Introduction To Maternal Mental Wellness

In our culture, the word pregnancy conjures up a “glowing” image akin to an earth mother walking in a field with wild flowers. Her world seems blissful, peaceful and brimming with promise for the future.

In reality, pregnancy is rarely, if ever, such a walk in the park.

Hormone levels peak at over 100x pre-pregnancy levels, bringing with them various physical and emotional changes. Furthermore, the sense of unknown and lack of control that comes with being pregnant is often stressful and can be down right terrifying. Many of us feel they can’t ask for help. We write off feelings of sadness and anxiety as a ‘normal’ part of the hormonal shifts of pregnancy. Many of us ‘just wait it out’ if experiencing negative psychiatric symptoms with the expectation that we will feel better once the baby is born. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.

As we discuss maternal mental wellness in this and future posts as part of our Pregnancy Mental Health Series, remember – just as you take care of your physical health, you must also take care of your mental health for both the health of you and your baby.

How Your Mental State Changes During Pregnancy

While pregnancy used to be a time that was considered ‘protective’ from emotional problems, we now know that this is not the case. Instead, postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD) affect up to 20% of new moms, and are considered the most common complication of pregnancy. Thirty-percent of these women developed symptoms either before or during pregnancy that continued into the postpartum.

Many factors influence whether a woman will experience mood symptoms during pregnancy, including:

  • Degree of support at home
  • Whether the pregnancy was planned or a surprise
  • Financial stability
  • Age
  • Family history for mood and anxiety disorders
  • Pre-pregnancy health and mood status – women who experienced severe PMS (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) may be at an increased risk of experiencing mood symptoms in pregnancy
  • History of or existing psychiatric illness – women who abruptly stop their medications shortly before or after conception are at a significantly increased risk of relapse during pregnancy

How To Improve Your Mental Wellness Before Pregnancy

Ideally, a woman feels stable emotionally and physically for at least 3 months before conception. Do this by taking care of the entire body beginning before conception.

  • Minimize toxin and chemical exposure
  • Eat healthy foods that are organically sourced or locally grown
  • Take prenatal vitamins
  • Exercise before and continuing into and through pregnancy can help to improve the health of a pregnancy

Women who are suffering from or have a history of depression, anxiety or another mood disorder should speak with their mental health provider or OBGYN ideally in advance of conception about ways to maximize emotional stability while simultaneously minimizing risk to their future babies in pregnancy.

Realistically, Your Mental Wellness Will Be Challenged

Mood symptoms in pregnancy and postpartum can become very serious, and have short- and long-term negative effects. Many effective treatment options exist, and over 90% of women improve once in appropriate treatment and your doctor this article.

You should seek help during pregnancy if you:

  • Experience frequent dramatic shifts in mood
  • Cry often
  • Have difficulty sleeping (beyond from having to pee at night)
  • Eat too little or too much
  • Isolate from friends and family
  • Feel overwhelmed, worthless or guilty
  • Unable to enjoy things you usually enjoy
  • Lack motivation and feel apathetic
  • Have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

Mental Wellness Affects You And Your Baby

Future posts in the Nine Naturals Mental Wellness + Pregnancy Series will focus on mental health during pregnancy/the postpartum period  and will address specific risks associated with suffering from untreated mood symptoms during those times.

The important thing to remember is that being ill in pregnancy and during the postpartum period may have negative affects not only for mom, but also for her baby. Treatment for resolution of symptoms is often the safest option as compared to remaining untreated.

Online Resources:

  • Postpartum Support International (PSI): www.postpartum.net
  • Postpartum Progress: www.postpartumprogress.com
  • Massachusetts General Women’s Mental Health Site: www.womensmentalhealth.org
  • If you need immediate help, please call 1800-SUICIDE. In an emergency, if you fear you are at risk of harming yourself or someone else, please call 911.

Carly Snyder, M.D. is a Psychiatrist in New York City with a focus and expertise in Reproductive Psychiatry. Dr. Snyder is the Clinical Course Director for the Reproductive and Perinatal Psychiatry Program at Beth Israel Medical Center. She holds faculty appointments in Psychiatry and Obstetrics and Gynecology at Beth Israel Medical Center, and a teaching appointment at Mount Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Snyder serves on the Board of Directors for Postpartum Support International, and is a member of the Women’s Mental Health Consortium in NYC. Dr. Snyder also sees patients in her private practice located on the Upper East Side of New York City. She received her undergraduate degree from Emory University, attended NYU School of Medicine and completed residency at Beth Israel Medical Center, with additional sub-specialized elective training at Weill Cornell’s Payne Whitney Women’s Program.

Dr. Snyder treats women experiencing emotional and psychiatric challenges at any age. Her approach uses a combination of traditional psychiatric methods with integrative medicine-based treatments to optimize the whole body, mind and well-being. Dr. Snyder provides individualized treatment that focus on improving a woman’s physical and emotional health. In addition to more traditional psychiatric modalities, she has extensive experience treating patients with natural supplements, either alone or in combination with pharmacotherapy. For more information, visit Dr. Snyder’s website, blog and follow her Twitter.