Maternal mental health: Signs of depression and anxiety

NORFOLK, Va. - Nearly 20 percent of mothers experience anxiety or depression during and after childbirth, and pediatricians in Hampton Roads are working to break the stigma associated with seeking help.

"It’s a good time to discuss these statistics, particularly for new mothers who may think, 'This should be the happiest time of my life. Why am I stressed, sad, overwhelmed?',” said Dr. Natasha Sriraman of General Academic Pediatrics.

Dr. Sriraman said four years ago, pediatricians in her practice began screening new mothers for anxiety and depression during their children's well-child visits.

"Out of thousands of mothers we have screened, we referred nearly a third to further care, support, and resources," she said.

In her recent blog "Breaking the Silence on Maternal Mental Health," Dr. Sriraman said nurses and social workers in CHKD’s neonatal intensive care unit have also been trained to do this screening.  She said studies show "children with a depressed mother are more likely to have behavioral and emotional problems, and are at increased risk to experience cognitive delays."

"Since pediatricians typically see babies seven times during their first year of life for well-child visits, it’s a perfect time to connect with struggling mothers," she said in her blog.  "Add to this stress the fact that many women who suffer from mental health disorders were untreated before pregnancy. Others who were prescribed medication sometimes stop taking it during pregnancy because of fear of risk to the developing baby."

Dr. Sriraman lists signs of mood and anxiety disorders during and after pregnancy as:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, angry, or overwhelmed.
  • Feeling anxious or panicky.
  • Regrets about having a baby.
  • Having trouble sleeping, even when the baby sleeps.
  • Thinking your family is better off without you.
  • Having thoughts that scare you.

She encourages mothers experiencing these symptoms to talk to you doctor, make an appointment with a therapist or mental health provider or join a support group likes those listed with Postpartum Support Virginia.  You can learn more about support groups at CHKD by calling (757) 668-7165 or emailing healthymommyhealthybaby@CHKD.org.

"Remember, this is not your fault, you are not to blame, and with help, you can get well," she said.

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