By Christin Perry | February 25, 2020
"Almost as soon as those two pink lines pop up on a pregnancy test, your hormones get the message that something's different at mission control. Progesterone and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) begin pumping to signal your body to halt production on your next menstrual period, and begin forming that cluster of cells into a mini-you instead. As you probably already know, as these hormones get to work, you'll experience an onslaught of early pregnancy symptoms like nausea, fatigue, and breast tenderness.
As pregnancy progresses, our bodies produce extraordinary amounts of estrogen and progesterone, says Aumatma Shah, fertility specialist and naturopathic doctor at the Bay Area's Holistic Fertility Center. "These two steroidal hormones are key to creating dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters in the brain that are important in feeling calm and happy. This is why a lot of women feel amazing when pregnant: Pregnancy offers a surge of hormones and neurotransmitters that help us feel great."
But what happens to those feel-good pregnancy hormones once your baby is born? "Unfortunately, immediately postpartum and the week following delivery, estrogen and progesterone will both plummet. Simultaneously, there will be a surge in prolactin and oxytocin," says Shah.
These wildly swinging hormones are to blame for those crazy emotions you'll experience after giving birth. Here's a closer look at what happens to your hormones postpartum and when so you know what to expect—and so you know the loony emotions you're feeling are all completely normal.
What Happens to Hormones Immediately After Giving Birth?
The birth of your sweet bundle of joy is undoubtedly one of the most exciting moments of your life. No matter how long you labor or what time you give birth—yes, even if it's at 3 a.m.—you'll likely feel an amazing, indescribable high when you meet your baby for the first time, or shortly thereafter. But those surging hormones will plummet over the next few days. Here's what's going on:
Postpartum Hormones at 3 to 6 Weeks
After those first few weeks pass, you may start to feel those rollercoaster-like emotions start to regulate a bit as you begin to get into the groove of caring for baby and get used to the lack of sleep. Ashley Margeson, a naturopathic doctor says, "the first three months are a bit of a whirlwind of sleep loss and emotions as your system runs mostly on adrenaline to move you through the day."
Around the six-week mark, she says, symptoms of postpartum depression may begin to show as those positive post-birth hormones continue to fade. "The changes you should look for closely are not wanting to shower or focus on hygiene, being afraid of leaving your baby with someone else, not being able to sleep fully due to continually checking on baby, and lack of desire for common tasks like eating, drinking, being around people, and leaving the house."
By: Jessica Grose | February 4th, 2021
"In early September, as the school year inched closer, a group of mothers in New Jersey decided they would gather in a park, at a safe social distance, and scream their lungs out. For months, as the pandemic disrupted work and home life, these moms, like so many parents, had been stretched thin — acting as caregivers, teachers and earners at once. They were breaking.
As are mothers all over the United States.
By now, you have read the headlines, repeating like a depressing drum beat:
“Working moms are not okay.” “Pandemic Triples Anxiety And Depression Symptoms In New Mothers.” “Working Moms Are Reaching The Breaking Point.”
You can also see the problem in numbers: Almost 1 million mothers have left the workforce — with Black mothers, Hispanic mothers and single mothers among the hardest hit. Almost one in four children experienced food insecurity in 2020, which is intimately related to the loss of maternal income. And more than three quarters of parents with children ages 8 to 12 say the uncertainty around the current school year is causing them stress.
Despite these alarm bells clanging, signaling a financial and emotional disaster among America’s mothers, who are doing most of the increased amount of child care and domestic work during this pandemic, the cultural and policy response enacted at this point has been nearly nonexistent.
The pandemic has touched every group of Americans, and millions are suffering, hungry and grieving. But many mothers in particular get no space or time to recover.
The impact is not just about mothers’ fate as workers, though the economic fallout of these pandemic years might have lifelong consequences. The pandemic is also a mental health crisis for mothers that fervently needs to be addressed, or at the very least acknowledged.
“Just before the pandemic hit, for the first time ever, for a couple months, we had more women employed than men,” said Michael Madowitz, an economist at the Center for American Progress. “And now we are back to late 1980s levels of women in the labor force.” The long-term ramifications for mothers leaving work entirely or cutting back on work during this time include: a broken pipeline for higher-level jobs and a loss of Social Security and other potential retirement income.
“Covid took a crowbar into gender gaps and pried them open,” said Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the University of Michigan. Her long-term concerns are even more fundamental: Will watching a generation of mothers go through this difficult time with little support turn the next generation of women off from parenthood altogether?
The economic disaster of the pandemic is directly related to maternal stress levels, and by extension, the stress levels of American children. Philip Fisher, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon who runs an ongoing nationally representative survey on the impact of the pandemic on families with young children, points out that the stressors on mothers are magnified by a number of intersecting issues, including poverty, race, having special needs children and being a single parent.
“People are having a hard time making ends meet, that’s making parents stressed out, and that’s causing kids to be stressed out,” Dr. Fisher said. This buildup can lead to toxic stress, “And we know from all the science, that level of stress has a lasting impact on brain development, learning and physical health.” Almost 70 percent of mothers say that worry and stress from the pandemic have damaged their health.
The statistics on stress levels are shocking, but they are sterile; they don’t begin to expose the frayed lives of American mothers and their children during this pandemic. A young mother who self-identified as American Indian/Alaska Native summed up her situation in response to Dr. Fisher’s survey: “We are requesting government help for food. Relationship between partner and I are tense. I am personally struggling more now with depression and anxiety. My toddler has become more anxious as well and shown aggressive behavior. She seems overwhelmed most of the time.”
Times editor-at-large Jessica Bennett spent months communicating with three women, who kept detailed diaries of their days, for a look at just how much American mothers are doing every waking second."
By: Pregnancy & Postpartum TV | March 6, 2019
"Prenatal Yoga Bedtime or Prenatal Yoga Before Bed. Help get to sleep with this prenatal bedtime yoga or prenatal bedtime stretch. Prenatal yoga bedtime as a pregnancy insomnia remedies."
"What Is Prenatal Depression?
Prenatal depression, also called perinatal depression, is depression experienced by women during pregnancy. Like postpartum depression, prenatal (or perinatal) depression isn’t just a feeling of sadness—mothers who experience this mental health disorder may also feel anxious and angry.
You've likely heard of postpartum depression—and that's a good thing. The more that postpartum depression is talked about and understood, the more mothers will seek the help they need so that they can feel better and live full and healthy lives as new moms.
But prenatal depression is a maternal mood disorder that hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as it should. While prenatal depression can be treated, many expecting mothers don’t even know that it’s a “thing” and therefore don’t seek treatment for it.
Many feel ashamed to even share how they are feeling. After all, you are supposed to be overjoyed and excited when you are expecting a baby, right? It’s easy to feel guilt and shame when you are feeling the exact opposite.
Here’s what you should know about prenatal depression, including how common it is, what to look for in terms of symptoms, and most importantly, how to get help.
How Common Is Prenatal Depression?
Like postpartum depression, which impacts as many as 1 in 7 new moms, prenatal depression is actually quite common.
According to a journal article by Maria Muzik, MD, and Stefana Borovska, published in Mental Health in Family Medicine, 13% of pregnant moms experience depression.
As the authors note, perinatal depression (both prenatal and postpartum) is even more common among mothers facing adverse experiences, such as a history of depression or economic hardship.
“The prevalence of perinatal depression is even higher in vulnerable groups with certain risk factors,” the authors explain. “Young, single mothers, experiencing complications, with a history of stress, loss or trauma are far more likely to succumb to depression. Furthermore, one study found that up to 51% of women who experience socioeconomic disadvantage also report depressive symptoms during pregnancy.”
It's important to note prenatal depression doesn’t discriminate: You can experience it whether or not you have pre-existing risk factors. Always remember there is no shame in experiencing a serious bout of depression during pregnancy, and you are not alone.
Similar to postpartum depression, experts can’t pinpoint one particular cause of prenatal depression, but have hypothesized that it’s likely caused by a confluence of factors—a “perfect storm” of triggers that come to a head for some mothers during their pregnancies.
Either way, it’s important to note that whatever caused your prenatal depression, it most certainly wasn’t your fault. There was nothing you did wrong, and you are not a bad mom (or going to be a bad mom).
“Depression and anxiety during pregnancy or after birth don't happen because of something you do or don't do—they are medical conditions,” notes the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP).
“Although we don't fully understand the causes of these conditions, researchers think depression and anxiety during this time may result from a mix of physical, emotional, and environmental factors,” they add.
Prenatal depression manifests differently for every mom—you may even experience it differently from one pregnancy to another. It’s important to understand that anytime you feel overwhelmed by your emotions, unable to function in your day-to-day life, or just “off,” you should reach out to discuss your feelings with a trusted loved one or medical provider.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of prenatal depression:
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database."
Depression During Pregnancy Affect Infant’s Brain Anatomy, But No Change with Prenatal Exposure to SSRIs
By MGH Center for Women's Mental Health | June 22, 2021
"When a woman comes in for a consultation regarding the use of medications during pregnancy, we spend most of our time reviewing the potential risks of exposure to medications during pregnancy. However, we must also include a discussion of the effects of untreated psychiatric illness in the mother on the developing child, for there is a growing body of literature which demonstrates that what happens in utero, while the fetus is developing, may have effects on the child that persist into adulthood.
A number of recent studies have examined the brain anatomy of infants born to depressed mothers. Neuroimaging has revealed changes in connectivity between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex (reviewed in Duan et al, 2019), and it is hypothesized that these alterations are responsible for the children’s increased vulnerability to anxiety and depression.
In a recent study Sethnaa and colleagues add to this literature, using MRI to compare regional brain volumes in 31 3-to-6-month-old infants born to women with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD, confirmed using the SCID) and 33 infants born to women without a current or past psychiatric diagnosis. The study recruited women during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy from antenatal clinics and perinatal psychiatric services in South London.
MRI assessments were conducted in infants between the ages of 3 and 6 months. Compared to infants born to non-depressed mothers, infants born to mothers with depression during pregnancy have larger subcortical grey matter volumes and smaller midbrain volumes. This finding persisted after adjusting for potential confounders, including medication use during pregnancy, postpartum depressive symptoms, and infant sex.
These findings are consistent with other studies looking at different types of insults, such as hypoxia and substance use, suggesting that these subcortical structures are particularly susceptible to changes in the in utero environment. The authors note that this finding of an association between maternal antenatal depression and midbrain development is not surprising given the midbrain’s role in stress regulation."
By: Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH | June 14, 2021
"Affirmations are statements that you use intentionally to instill a sense of positivity and purpose in your mind about a particular subject. You can use these short phrases and sentences to help yourself focus on and accept a positive message that you wish to remember.Affirmations are an example of using positive thinking to set an intention and increase the likelihood of positive results. Even better, they are simple to do, free, and accessible to all.
Why They Work
While there is no guarantee that affirmations will actually change the outcome of your pregnancy, some studies suggest that affirmations can reduce stress and anxiety—which can make it easier to rest, eat, and avoid issues such as headaches and fatigue. Plus, positive thoughts tend to cultivate positive feelings, which may help to make your pregnancy experience more enjoyable and relaxed.
Studies show that using positive affirmations impacts brain pathways, increasing activity in the areas of the mind responsible for self-worth, self-regulation, and core values. Researchers believe that making a regular practice of saying affirming statements can effectively shift your focus from negative emotions or stressors to your own expansive capacity to cope, bolstering your confidence and bringing you new ideas, strategies, energy, and hope for the future.
Write Your Own
The beauty of positive affirmations is that you can write your own to use whenever you like. They can be said out loud or silently in your head, quietly whispered to yourself, or written down. In lieu of writing your own, you can also use one you have read or heard elsewhere. If it makes you feel strong, positive, and hopeful, then you're on the right track.
Remember, your affirmation should be in the present tense, as if what you wish to happen is already occurring. For example, someone who is worried about coping with childbirth might say, "I am strong." A person who is trying to get pregnant and having difficulty might say, "I am a good parent to my child."
This person might decide to repeat the affirmation every morning as a reminder of their goal and to foster their hope for this desired outcome. During infertility treatments, they might visualize this affirmation while undergoing procedures and tests, as well. During pregnancy, daily pregnancy affirmations may serve to enhance the mother's bond to their growing baby while also alleviating the worry that something might go wrong.
How to Do It
Anything that speaks to you can work as an affirmation. If you're unsure, brainstorm statements that connect to the feelings, values, and intentions you want to affirm. If you have a specific worry or negative thought that keeps coming to mind, try flipping it around to a positive one.
If you catch yourself thinking, "I can't do this," counter that with, "I can do this." "Childbirth is scary" becomes "childbirth is beautiful." Simple is good. Setting your positive intention can literally change your mind.
To help you get started writing your own affirmations, consider beginning with phrases like the following:
By MGH Center for Women's Mental Health | June 10th, 2021
"When we meet with women for perinatal psychiatry consultations, we now ask about vaccinations. It’s not something we typically do, but after the last year, we are now getting involved in their decisions regarding vaccination against COVID-19. Just as we counsel women to avoid alcohol and to consistently take their prenatal vitamins, providing information on the COVID-19 vaccine is an important aspect of promoting the health of pregnant and postpartum women.
Considering a growing body of evidence indicating that pregnant women are more likely to have certain manifestations of severe COVID-19 illness, including admission to the ICU and mechanical ventilation, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has urged the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to include pregnant and lactating women in the high-priority populations for COVID-19 vaccine allocation. ACOG clearly states that all pregnant and lactating people should be allowed to receive the vaccine, and that their decision to do so should be based on a careful discussion of risks and benefits with their healthcare provider.
From our vantage point, there are other benefits to the COVID-19 vaccine. During the past year, before the vaccination was available, we watched as pregnant and postpartum patients undertook the most extreme forms of lockdown. Many of these women were literally housebound: never leaving the house and cutting off contact with friends and family, while at the same time taking on more childcare responsibilities as outside care providers and day care centers were no longer available. And all the while wondering what would happen if they or a member of their family felt ill?
We are yet to fully appreciate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on perinatal women, but preliminary studies indicate that during the lockdown, pregnant and postpartum women reported higher levels of stress, loneliness, depression, and anxiety. And this is not really a surprise. So many of the things we typically recommend to reduce stress and social isolation, such as exercising regularly or spending time with friends and family, vanished.
While it might seem like the pandemic is fading into the distance, the resurgence of the pandemic in places like India and Brazil where immunization rates are low, we cannot be so sure about this. So far the most successful way to avoid becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 is to get vaccinated.
A recent article in Medscape, however, suggests that mothers appear to be less likely to get vaccinated than others in the general population. According to a recent poll from Morning Consult, about two-thirds of adults in the US have either already been vaccinated against COVID-19 or plan to do so. In contrast, mothers are the most likely to be hesitant about the vaccine. In this study, 51% of the mothers reported that they are unwilling to get vaccinated or are uncertain about getting vaccinated, at 51% (compared to 32% of other women and 29% of fathers)."
By familydoctor.org editorial staff.
"The amount of sleep you get while you’re pregnant not only affects you and your baby, but could impact your labor and delivery as well. Lack of sleep during pregnancy has been tied to a number of complications, including preeclampsia (a serious condition that affects your blood pressure and kidneys). This condition could result in pre-mature birth. Now is the time to take sleep seriously.When you become pregnant, one of the first symptoms you may notice is being overwhelmingly tired, even exhausted. Sleep will be irresistible to you. You can most likely blame your changing hormones for this, especially the extra progesterone that comes with being pregnant. In the beginning, pregnancy also lowers your blood pressure and blood sugar, which can make you feel tired.
Shortly after the first trimester, your energy should return. Sometime during the third trimester, you’ll begin to feel tired again. Some of this feeling can be blamed on the sheer physical exhaustion that comes from growing a baby and the stress that it puts on your body. However, your weariness during this time is in direct relation to your inability to get a good night’s sleep.
Even if you’ve never had trouble sleeping before, you may find it much more difficult while you’re pregnant.
Path to improved health
Sleep should never be seen as a luxury. It’s a necessity — especially when you’re pregnant.
In fact, women who are pregnant need a few more hours of sleep each night or should supplement nighttime sleep with naps during the day, according to the National Institutes of Health.
For many pregnant women, getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night becomes more difficult the farther along they are in their pregnancy. There are many physical and emotional obstacles to sleep in this stage. Anxiety about being a mom or about adding to your family can keep you awake. Fear of the unknown or about the delivery can cause insomnia. Plus, there is the getting up every few hours to go to the bathroom. It also can be difficult to find a comfortable position in bed, especially if you are a former stomach sleeper.
If any of the following is keeping you awake at night, try these strategies for getting a good night’s sleep.
At some point in their pregnancy, most pregnant women suffer from heartburn, which is a form of indigestion that feels like burning in your chest and throat. Heartburn can wake you up in the middle of the night and ruin a good sleep. Minimize the chance for this by avoiding spicy foods. Also, cut down on rich foods for dinner.
Restless leg syndrome
Few things are more distracting than restless legs syndrome (RLS), especially when you are trying to go to sleep. While you can’t take traditional RLS medicines when you are pregnant, you can try to reduce the feelings of RLS with a good prenatal vitamin that includes folate and iron.
Morning sickness — at bedtime
Despite the name, morning sickness can occur any time and is often worse later in the day. Try eating a few crackers at bedtime and keep a stash in your nightstand in case a wave of nausea hits as you are trying to go to sleep.
There are many ways insomnia can creep in and compromise your sleep time. Often, it’s just about being able to shut down your brain. Most medicines for insomnia should not be taken while you are pregnant. Instead, try journaling some of the things you are anxious about. Write down what is stressing you and try to let it go as you go to sleep. Also, stop drinking caffeine by early afternoon. Try not to take long naps during the day. Doing any — or all — of these things can help ease you back into sleep at a reasonable bedtime.
Not many things can wake you as quickly and painfully as a leg cramp. Sometimes called a charley horse, these cramps are usually a contraction of your calf muscle. Less frequently, they can occur in your thigh or your foot. These can plague you in pregnancy because of a lack of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium. They also are more common if you are dehydrated. To guard against leg cramps, make sure that you continue to take your prenatal vitamin and drink plenty of water and other fluids during the day.
Finding a comfortable position
As your body grows, sleep becomes a little harder to come by, especially in the third trimester. It’s difficult to get comfortable. It’s harder to move around and shift positions in bed. If you’ve been a stomach or back sleeper, it can be hard to adjust to sleeping on your side. The best position to sleep in when you’re pregnant is on your left side. This improves blood flow and, therefore, nutrient flow to your baby. Try lying on your left side, knees bent with a pillow between your knees. It also helps to tuck a pillow under your stomach, as well, for extra support.
Frequent bathroom breaks
With the baby pushing down on your bladder, you likely can’t make it all night without waking at least once to go to the bathroom. You can help minimize nighttime bathroom trips by cutting down on how much you drink in the evenings. Just be sure to get adequate hydration during the day. Bright lights can make it harder for you to fall back asleep, so use nightlights so that you will not need to turn on the lights when you get up to go to the bathroom.
In addition to minimizing the common obstacles to getting a good night’s sleep, there are also ways to encourage good sleep habits. This is called good sleep hygiene.
Things to consider
Sleep is essential to health. Lack of sleep is associated with many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, and even heart disease. If you’re pregnant, not getting an adequate amount of sleep can put you at risk for some serious conditions. Lack of sleep can also complicate your delivery.
In one research study, pregnant women who slept less than six hours at night late in pregnancy had longer labors and were more likely to have cesarean deliveries.
Another study reports that the sleep you get in your first trimester can affect your health in the third trimester. Women who don’t get enough sleep (less than five hours per night) in the first trimester are nearly 10 times more likely to develop preeclampsia late in pregnancy. Preeclampsia is a condition associated with pregnancy-related high blood pressure, swelling of hands and feet, and protein in urine.
If you’ve ever had a sleep disorder, it could be made worse by pregnancy. If you’ve had sleep apnea in the past, your snoring may get worse during pregnancy. This is especially true if you were already overweight when you became pregnant. Expect that RLS will worsen during this time. Heartburn will intensify, too."
"For a new mom-to-be, experiencing sleep deprivation after the baby is born is a given. But you probably didn’t realize that it could also occur during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Most women experience sleep problems during pregnancy. Pregnant women tend to get more sleep during their first trimesters (hello, early bedtime) but experience a big drop in the quality of their sleep. It turns out that pregnancy can make you feel exhausted all day long. It can also cause insomnia at night.
Here are some of the most common culprits for insomnia during early pregnancy, plus a few tips to help you get a better night’s sleep.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia means you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. Women can experience insomnia during all stages of pregnancy, but it tends to be more common in the first and third trimesters. Between midnight bathroom breaks, out-of-control hormones, and pregnancy woes such as congestion and heartburn, you might be spending more time out of your bed than in it. The good news: While insomnia might be miserable, it’s not harmful to your baby.
Sheer logistics play a role as well. By the end of a pregnancy, many women have a hard time just getting comfortable enough to sleep well. During the first trimester, you might not have much of a baby belly to accommodate, but there are other issues that can prevent a good night’s sleep.
What causes insomnia during pregnancy?
Expecting? There are many reasons you might be wide awake in the wee hours. These can include:
It can be difficult to distract yourself from these thoughts, but try to remember that worrying isn’t productive. Instead, try writing down all of your concerns on paper. This will give you a chance to consider possible solutions. If there are no solutions, or there is nothing you can do, turn the page in your journal and focus on another worry. This can help empty your mind so you can rest.
Being up front with your partner about your feelings and worries can also help you feel better.
Develop a bedtime routine
One of the best things you can do to manage insomnia while you’re pregnant is to set up good sleep habits.
Begin by trying to go to bed at the same time every night. Start your routine with something relaxing to help you unwind.
Avoid screen time at least an hour before bed. Blue light from the TV, your mobile phone, or tablet can have an impact on your body’s circadian rhythm. Try reading a book instead.
Taking a soothing bath might also make you sleepy. Just be careful that the temperature isn’t too hot — that can be dangerous for your developing baby. This is especially true during early pregnancy.
To be safe, avoid hot tubs.
Diet and exercise
Diet and exercise can have an impact on your sleep.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day, but minimize drinking after 7 p.m. Try to avoid caffeine starting in the late afternoon.
Eat to sleep
Eat a healthy dinner, but try to enjoy it slowly to reduce your chances of heartburn. Eating an early dinner can also help, but don’t go to bed hungry. Eat a light snack if you need to eat something late in the evening. Something high in protein can keep your blood sugar levels steady through the night. A warm glass of milk can help you feel sleepy, too."
"Seaneen Molloy was excited to discover she was expecting her second baby during lockdown. With a history of mental illness, she carefully planned the pregnancy, but when her baby arrived she experienced the "terrifyingly rapid" onset of a crisis which left her unable to hold baby Jack."
"Having a baby is supposed to be a joyful experience, and for lots of women it is. However, up to 20% experience mental ill health during pregnancy and the year after birth. Tragically, suicide is the leading cause of death in new mothers.
Women who already have a mental illness are at a high risk of relapse during pregnancy - that's women like me.
I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder. This meant that pretty much from the moment I became pregnant, the perinatal mental health team were involved.
This includes specialist midwives, psychiatrists, nurses and social workers whose goal is to support women to stay well, and intervene quickly if they don't.
Normally, I manage my mental health by being careful with my sleep and leading a pretty boring life away from overwork and alcohol, but pregnancy chucks in a host of factors you have no control over.
Hormones rage through your body, wreaking havoc upon your mood, your energy levels and your ability to keep your lunch down. You either can't stay awake or are awake for hours - peeing a thousand times and being hoofed by tiny feet.
I had managed to stay well, and off medication, for years, but in the run-up to birth antipsychotic medication was introduced to prevent postpartum psychosis. This can cause women to develop delusions and lose touch with reality.
It's the one I was most at risk of developing due to my history of bipolar disorder, but in the end, I experienced postnatal anxiety.
My mental health had been largely OK during my pregnancy and my labour and after-care were carefully planned.
I had a calm elective Caesarean section due to a traumatic first birth, a room of my own and the baby was whisked away on his inaugural night so that I could get some all-important sleep (this bit was hard - it went against every natural instinct). A procession of midwives, doctors and social workers visited to see how I was doing.
Although I found it intrusive, it helped me feel safe. When I was discharged from hospital with my baby, Jack, I felt swaddled in care and confident everything would be OK.
It was a complete shock that I did get ill.
In the chaos of newborn-life I forgot a dose of my anti-clotting medication which is given to mothers after C-sections.
And this one tiny event broke my brain.
I went from mildly chiding the home treatment team for their postnatal visits, because I was fine, to a full-blown mental health crisis within about 12 hours. It was terrifyingly rapid - which is why perinatal mental illness can be so deadly.
My mild anxiety exploded into an all-consuming panic that I was going to die imminently from a blood clot in my lung. I couldn't think of anything else but the black terror of certain death that was coming for me - how I was going to leave my children, how I'd brought a new child into the world never to know me.
I called out-of-hours GPs describing symptoms I was convinced I had, sobbed, screamed and couldn't breathe. I terrified my husband and myself.
Then we hit the emergency button.
The psychiatrist came over with the home treatment team. They took my fears seriously, which I appreciated, and gave me a physical examination and the missed dose of medication. My antipsychotic medication was increased to the maximum dose and benzodiazepines - a type of sedative - prescribed, to try and calm me down.
I wasn't allowed to be left alone and the mental health team were to visit me every day where I tried to articulate my terror to their masked faces.
At first I resented their visits, but they became a 30-minute space where I could let down the exhausting facade and share how I was really feeling.
My anxiety then transformed into an obsession that Jack was going to die. I was afraid to leave the room and rested my hand on his chest all night.
If my husband took him out to the shops with his brother, I cried and paced about, imagining they had all been hit by a car. I texted him incessantly.
Everyone was saying I needed "rest", so he tried to give me space. But after the second or third breakdown, he agreed to keep his phone on loud and to answer quickly. The home treatment team also advised he give me clear timescales so I knew when to expect them home.
But the medication also caused intense restlessness. I couldn't sit still. I couldn't get comfortable enough to hold my baby for more than a minute."
By MGH Center for Women's Mental Health | May 19th, 2021
"This is a question we often hear. One of the challenges in answering this question is the interpretation of the word “best”. On one hand, the best antidepressant is the one that is the most likely to be effective. On the other hand, the best antidepressant is the one that carries the least risk when used during pregnancy. What this means is that there is no single answer. Each situation is different, and our recommendations are based on a careful assessment of the patient’s course of illness, treatment history, past medication trials, and the most up-to-date information on reproductive safety. Added to this calculation is the understanding that untreated depression also carries some risk in terms of maternal well-being and has been associated with worse pregnancy outcomes.
Stay with the Same Treatment or Switch?
We often meet with women who have switched to a different antidepressant medication in preparation for pregnancy. Other women make a switch when they discover they are pregnant. These switches are motivated by the belief that there is a “safer” medication to be used during pregnancy. The reality is that most of the antidepressants taken by women today are relatively safe and carry a very low risk to the developing fetus. What separates one antidepressant from another is that some medications have more data to support their reproductive safety than others. But even this distinction is disappearing; we have data to support the use of most SSRIs (with less data on fluvoxamine or Luvox), the SNRIs duloxetine (Cymbalta) and venlafaxine (Effexor), and bupropion (Wellbutrin). Tricyclic antidepressants, although not commonly used today, also have data to support their reproductive safety.
We have very little data on the reproductive safety of the MAO inhibitors. In addition, MAO inhibitors may have serious interactions with other medications frequency used during pregnancy and labor and delivery, specifically medications used to manage pain, such as nalbuphine (Nubain) and meperidine (Demerol). In women taking these medications, we are likely to suggest switching to another antidepressant with a better reproductive safety profile.
At this point, we have less data on the use of the newer antidepressants. There is some data on mirtazapine, with the most recent study including 334 cases of neonates with prenatal exposure to mirtazapine. While these data are reassuring and there is no indication that mirtazapine carries significant teratogenic risk, the number of mirtazapine exposures remains small. Ideally we would like to have data from 600-700 exposures to get a better estimate of risk. Making decisions regarding safety on studies with small sample sizes can lead to miscalculations of risk in either direction.
The data is even more limited with regard to the use of vortioxetine (Trintellix), vilazodone (Viibryd), levomilnacipran (Fetzima). If there are effective alternatives, we typically recommend switching to another antidepressant.
In settings where we have limited data regarding the reproductive safety of a particular antidepressant, we may consider switching to an antidepressant with a better characterized reproductive safety profile. It is important, however, to carefully consider the benefits and risks of making this switch. With any switch, there is the risk of relapse when making a change in the maintenance treatment. Thus, there are situations where we recommend continuing an antidepressant with limited reproductive safety information because there are no effective alternatives and the risk of relapse is significant.
What About Zoloft? Isn’t Zoloft the Safest?
At some point in the early 2000s, there emerged the belief that sertraline (Zoloft) was the safest antidepressant to use during pregnancy, and many women taking other antidepressants were encouraged to switch to sertraline during pregnancy. It is somewhat unclear where this opinion came from — maybe one paper suggesting lower placental passage of sertraline compared to other antidepressants; however, there is and never was any solid data to support the assertion that sertraline is safer or the safest antidepressant. Reflexively switching women to sertraline puts women at risk for recurrent illness.
While sertraline is effective for the treatment of depression and anxiety and is a reasonable choice for many women, one problem with sertraline is that it tends to be under-dosed. The typical starting dose is 50 mg; however, many individuals will need 150 mg to 200 mg to effectively manage their symptoms. Especially when sertraline treatment is initiated in the primary care setting, we often see women whose dose is too low to effectively manage their symptoms.
What About Paxil? Doesn’t It Cause Heart Defects?
The most current data regarding the use of paroxetine (Paxil) during pregnancy does not indicate an association between the use of paroxetine during pregnancy and risk for cardiovascular malformations. However, in 2006, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) elected to change product label warnings for the antidepressant paroxetine (Paxil), advising against the use of this drug by women who are pregnant. This decision was based on two preliminary studies which suggested a small increase in the risk of cardiovascular malformations among infants exposed to paroxetine in utero. For many years, this concern regarding risk of heart defects resulted in recommendations that women taking paroxetine should either stop paroxetine or to switch to a different antidepressant during pregnancy.
However, in 2008, a study from the Motherisk Program in Toronto reported on the outcomes of over 3000 paroxetine-exposed infants and found no association between the use of paroxetine during pregnancy and increased risk of cardiovascular malformations. Nonetheless, some women and their treaters continue to feel uncomfortable with the use of paroxetine during pregnancy. Furthermore, many websites (including reputable sites like the Mayo Clinic) continue to urge women to avoid paroxetine during pregnancy because of the risk of malformations.
At this point, we typically do not recommend switching from paroxetine to another antidepressant for pregnancy. Although paroxetine is an SSRI, there are definitely situations where an individual may respond better to paroxetine than to other SSRIs. Thus, switching to a different antidepressant may increase risk for relapse.
What About Lexapro? And Pristiq?
There are some newer antidepressants that are derived from older parent antidepressants. For example, citalopram (Celexa) is a racemic mixture, composed of R- and S-enantiomers (or mirror images) of citalopram. While the S-enantiomer is clinically active, the R-enantiomer is not. Escitalopram or Lexapro contains only the active S-enantiomer. Because the S-enantiomer is contained in the original citalopram formulation, we can infer that the reproductive safety of escitalopram (Lexapro) is the same as that of citalopram (Celexa).
Another example is desvenlafaxine or Pristiq. For venlafaxine to be effective as an antidepressant, it must first be metabolized by the body to desvenlafaxine. Pristiq contains only the active metabolite desvenlafaxine. Because desvenlafaxine is a metabolic byproduct of the original venlafaxine formulation, we can infer that the reproductive safety of desvenlafaxine (Pristiq) is the same as that of venlafaxine (Effexor).
The Bottom Line
No two situations are identical; thus, we must carefully consider each woman’s clinical history and preferences in order to select a treatment plan that makes sense. Ideally this discussion should occur long before a woman is pregnant, so that there is ample time to consider the various options and to make changes, if necessary.
When we meet with women to discuss the use of antidepressant medications during pregnancy, we typically consider a number of issues:
The perinatal psychiatry consultation should be viewed as a collaborative venture, where provider and patient decide together what is the best option for treatment during pregnancy."
-Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD
By: Love Amy Michelle | October 28, 2017
"Love Amy Michelle is a space for you to reconnect with yourself + to find some peace amidst the chaos."
Depression During the COVID-19 Lockdown Highlights the Importance of Social Connections for New Moms
By MGH Center for Women's Mental Health | May 18th, 2021
"Because pregnant and postpartum women face unique challenges in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, they may be at increased risk for mental health problems in this setting. In a recent study, researchers from the University College of London surveyed 162 new mothers in London between May and June 2020 using a social network survey designed to assess the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Almost half (47.5 percent) of women with babies less than six months of age had depressive symptoms suggestive of postpartum depression assessed using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. This is a huge increase in the expected prevalence of postpartum depression; studies carried out prior to the pandemic have shown that about 10% to 15% of women report depressive symptoms during the postpartum period.
The researchers also observed that the more contact new mothers had with other people — whether remotely or face-to-face — the less likely they were to report depressive symptoms. While this finding suggests that social isolation incurred as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown may have increased risk for depression, another interpretation is that women with greater social networks are less vulnerable to depression (whether or not there is a lockdown). However you interpret the data, multiple studies have demonstrated that social isolation is a risk factor for depression, in general, and having adequate social support reduces the risk for postpartum depression.
We often encourage new mothers to bolster their support networks and often recommend new moms groups. While this is a reasonable approach to managing the social isolation of new parenthood, many new mothers struggle to get out of the house and are unable to establish new social networks. One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been increased access to support groups on virtual platforms. For example, Postpartum Support International or PSI now offers a wide array of online group meetings for women who are pregnant or postpartum. Whether or not a lockdown is in effect, these social networks are so important to a new mother’s emotional well-being and may potentially decrease risk for psotatum illness."
-Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD
By MGH Center for Women's Mental Health | May 6th, 2021
"While we have relatively limited information regarding the prevalence of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OC) during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Previous studies have indicated that women may be more vulnerable to the onset of OCD during the postpartum period. Other studies indicate that women with OCD may experience worsening of OCD symptoms during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry looks at the prevalence of OCD symptoms during pregnancy and the postpartum period. They speculate that using standardized instruments for the diagnosis of OCD may fail to capture perinatal OCD, and their study incorporates a detailed assessment of obsessions of infant-related harm and corresponding compulsions.
In this study, 763 English-speaking women living in the Canadian province of British Columbia were recruited into this longitudinal study following women from the third trimester of pregnancy until 9 months postpartum. The Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-5 (SCID-5) was used to confirm DSM-5 diagnoses of OCD.
The weighted prevalence of OCD during pregnancy was 7.8%, and the weighted prevalence increased to 16.9% across the postpartum period. The estimated point prevalence of OCD diagnosis was 2.6% during pregnancy (6 weeks prior to delivery) and increased to 8.7% at 8 weeks postpartum. The point prevalence of OCD remained high (6.1%) at 20 weeks postpartum.
The incidence of new OCD cases was estimated to be 4.7 new cases per 1000 women each week during the postpartum period. By six months postpartum, the cumulative incidence of new cases of OCD was 9.0%. Most cases emerged during the first 10 weeks postpartum.
In total, the researchers observed that 100 women reported symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of OCD at some point during pregnancy or the postpartum period. In this group, 60 of the women reported onset of OCD symptoms during pregnancy or the postpartum period. The remaining 40 women reported that their OCD symptoms preceded the pregnancy.
High Prevalence of OCD During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period
The lifetime prevalence rate of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has been consistently estimated to be 2%-3% in the general adult population in the United States. The current study indicates that the weighted prevalence of OCD during pregnancy was 7.8% and increased to 16.9% across the postpartum period. Consistent with previous studies, Fairbrother and colleagues conclude that pregnancy and the postpartum period is a time of increased vulnerability to OCD. In addition, new onset of OCD is relatively common during pregnancy and the postpartum period, with 9% of women reporting postpartum onset of OCD in this study.
These estimates of prevalence are higher than those reported in previous studies, a finding that the researchers attribute to using a more comprehensive evaluation of perinatal-specific OC symptoms, including intrusive thoughts of infant-related harm. However, the authors note that some women joined the study after childbirth and may have been attracted to the study because of their experience of postpartum intrusive thoughts. Nonetheless, this is one of the largest studies we have regarding the incidence of OCD during pregnancy and the postpartum period and is noteworthy in that it used the SCID to confirm OCD diagnoses.
Current guidelines for screening perinatal women do not specifically recommend screening for OCD. This study indicates that perinatal OCD is relatively common and the authors recommend more careful screening for perinatal-specific OC symptoms. They note that standardized assessments for OCD include questions about obsessions involving dirt, germs, arranging and ordering; however, perinatal OCD is more often characterized by intrusive thoughts related to harming the infant (e.g., unwanted thoughts or images of harming the infant on purpose, harm to the infant stemming from parental distraction or neglect, being sexually inappropriate with the infant). Furthermore, given the shameful and horrifying nature of these thoughts, many women are hesitant to share these thoughts with others."
-Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD
By MGH Center for Women's Mental Health | May 5, 2021
"At this point, nine states and Washington, DC have legalized the use of recreational marijuana. Another 30 states have legalized medical marijuana. The downstream effect of these changes has been a significant uptick in the use of cannabis among women of childbearing age. According to data collected from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the use of cannabis in pregnant women rose from 2.37% in 2002 to 3.85% in 2014 in the United States, noting that 21.1% of pregnant women who used cannabis reported doing so on a daily basis.
While we have data to indicate that the use of cannabis during pregnancy may negatively affect fetal growth and brain development, we have less information on how the cannabis and its byproducts, which are secreted into the breast milk, may affect the nursing infant. Here are some important things we do know:
Can cannabis be found in the breast milk?
No matter how marijuana/cannabis is consumed (smoking, vaping, or ingesting), its byproducts can be found in the breast milk. Figuring out how much is passed into the breast milk is complicated because how women use cannabis varies considerably. For example, the kinetics of smoking vary considerably from ingesting. Both cannabidiol (CBD) and the psychoactive component, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, have been detected in breast milk.
In the largest study to date, which included eight breastfeeding women, the amount of THC detected in pumped breast milk ranged from 0.4%-8.7% of the maternal dose, with an estimated mean of 2.5%. Using these data, the average absolute infant dose was estimated to be 8 micrograms per kilogram per day.
If cannabis is consumed, how long does it persist in the breast milk?
Cannabis concentrations in the breast milk are variable and are related to maternal dose and the frequency of dosing. However, there are some things that make cannabis a little different than alcohol or other recreational drugs. Cannabis and its byproducts are very fat-soluble or lipophilic. Because in women the percentage of body fat is 25-30%, there is a large reservoir for the storage of cannabis. What this means is that it takes much longer for cannabis to leave one’s system, compared to substances like alcohol. Furthermore, there is an especially long washout period in those who have been daily users. Long after the psychoactive effects have faded, THC and its metabolites can be detected in blood, urine, and breast milk.
Studies focusing on the detection of THC in milk have yielded variable results, with duration of detection ranging from 6 days to greater than 6 weeks in various studies. The most recent study from Wymore and colleagues In a recent study, Wymore and colleagues collected data on self-reported marijuana usage and measured levels of THC in maternal plasma and breast milk samples several times a week. In all 25 participants, THC was detectable in breast milk throughout the six week duration of the study.
The researchers estimated the mean half-life of THC in breast milk to be 17 days (SD 3.3). Based on this estimate, they calculated that it would be possible to detect THC in breast milk for longer than 6 weeks. In addition, the researchers were able to calculate a milk:plasma partition coefficient for THC which was approximately 6:1 (IQR, 3.8:1 – 8.1:1). Milk:plasma ratios give us a sense of how easily a compound passes from the mother’s bloodstream into the breast milk and can be used to estimate the amount of exposure through breast milk. Most M:P ratios for drugs commonly used in breastfeeding women are around 1 or less than 1; thus, an M:P ratio for THC of 6 is high and suggests that levels of THC in the breast milk may be higher than in the mother’s bloodstream.
The findings of the Wymore study are consistent with previous studies measuring THC in breast milk which observed a duration of detection ranging from 6 days to greater than 6 weeks after using cannabis. The longevity of THC in the breast milk may be related, in part, to the extremely high fat content of breast milk and the lipophilic nature of THC, so that the breast milk “traps” the THC, in a sense acting like a reservoir for THC storage.
What are the effects of exposure to cannabis in the nursing infant?
The bioavailability of cannabis and its metabolites ingested by neonates in the breast milk has not been well-characterized. There are conflicting data regarding the outcomes of infants exposed to cannabis during breastfeeding and very few studies assessing outcomes in this population. These studies are not easy to conduct. First of all, recreational use of cannabis continues to be illegal in many states. Furthermore, it is difficult to disentangle the direct effects of cannabis delivered in the breast milk from the indirect effects of cannabis on the quality of childcare and parenting, especially in heavy, chronic users or when cannabis is combined with other substances.
In one study, 136 breastfeeding infants were assessed at one year of age. In the 68 infants exposed to cannabis during the first month of life, there was evidence of decreased motor development at one year, when compared with matched infants who were not exposed to cannabis. Specifically, there was a 1465-point decrease in the Bayley index of infant motor development. However, the authors of this study cannot conclude that these findings were entirely due to exposure via breastfeeding, as many of the women also used marijuana during pregnancy.
In another study, 27 breastfed infants exposed to cannabis were compared to 35 unexposed breastfed infants. At one year, no differences were noted for motor and mental development using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development. However, the small size of this study limited statistical analysis.
So the jury is still out regarding the effects of cannabis on the nursing infant.
All women should be screened for drug use as a component of standard prenatal care. Screening for substance use should occur during the course of pregnancy with the goal of providing information regarding the potential adverse effects of cannabis and to ensure referral to appropriate resources for treatment as needed. Because many women are able to abstain from substances during pregnancy but resume use after delivery, screening must be repeated during the postpartum period.
Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that women refrain from using cannabis during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Because of the persistence of cannabis and its byproducts in the breast milk for days to weeks, using cannabis and waiting for it to clear out of the breast milk is not a viable option. For women who use cannabis for medical indications, alternative therapies with more safety data during breastfeeding should be considered."
-Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD
By: Becky Vieira
"Dear Husband-I see you. Then and now. You might not think I did.
I try to imagine what you endured. The pain, fear. While the primary focus was on me, my health and recovery, I know you were suffering also. Silently. Never saying a word of complaint.
I recognize all you did to get me where I am today. To get us here.
We thought we’d just be tired. That exhaustion would be the biggest of our problems once our son was born. Neither of us expected that I’d be gripped – no, controlled – by my postpartum depression. It was supposed to be the happiest time of our lives, not the living nightmare it soon became.
It started slowly, do you remember? We thought I was tired. That my hormones were adjusting yet again. But before we knew it I was underwater. The progression from healthy to dangerous transpired within days once that beast took hold of me.
How did you do it? We had a newborn. No idea what to do with him. You carried that aspirator in your back pocket at all times “just in case.” And while we watched him sleep for fear something would happen if one of us closed our eyes, I began losing my fight.
Yet you continued on.
I started to slip away. I wanted to leave, convinced you both would be better off without me. You held me when I needed it. Let me run into the street to scream, then greeted me at the door with a warm blanket and tea when I returned. Researched treatment. Medications. Called my doctor and hid my car keys when things got dark.
You also got up every morning and went to work. Held things together for us financially. All while receiving frantic calls from me. Coming home between meetings, at lunch. To check on us.
There was no guidebook for you. No one you could call to ask questions on how to handle the situation. I was wrapped in the support I found online from other mom’s with postpartum depression. But what did you have? No men on social media were presenting themselves as the husbands of women with PPD. You had nowhere to turn.
There are resources for PPD. Help. But no one can really tell you how to live through it. It felt as if we were thrust into a new universe, one that spoke an entirely different language. My mind started lying to me and my will to live was faltering. Our coping skills were stripped away and we had to find a way to survive. I needed to be healthy again.
You kept going, for all of us. Trusted your instincts and did the best you could. Yes, there were moments when I was angry over the things you said or did. But today I see that it was in my best interest. You always tried to help.
Even when I screamed at you and said horrible things. Threatened to walk out of your life because I was convinced you deserved better than a sick wife. You never gave up.
You should be proud of yourself and recognize all you did. I’m proud of you. And grateful you stayed by my side. I’ll never forget sitting on the kitchen floor, crying to you as I said, “I’m crazy.” You kissed me and said, “then I guess I’m crazy, too.” Our tears turned to laughter and I knew I’d never be alone.
We survived and our marriage is actually stronger today because of all we endured. You held it together so that I could fall apart safely. And then build myself back up again.
Yes, I spoke up. Got help. Worked on myself, started taking medication. But it would have been much harder without you by my side.
I know you suffered. Were scared. And probably angry, frustrated and hopeless at times. But I never saw that. I only felt loved and supported.
Thank you for everything. I see you and what you did for me and our family. And I’ll never forget."
"If you think you may be suffering from postpartum depression, don’t wonder. Speak up. Talk to you doctor, partner, family and friends. If you are scared or worried about the stigma (I get it… we shouldn’t be concerned about that but of course we often are) and would rather talk to someone outside of your circle, you can call Postpartum Support International at 1.800.944.4773. If you just need a fellow mom to validate you and listen to your fears, find me on Instagram and reach out.
Anxious, overwhelmed, unhappy, or scared by how you feel? If you’re struggling emotionally, you could be depressed. Take this 10-question quiz to find out."
By: Melissa Willets
"If you're like me, your answer to the question: "Should I have another baby?" changes by the hour. I gaze at my sleeping, angelic children, snug in their beds at night, and think, YES! Definitely, the sooner the better, NOW. Then my kids are screaming, fighting over a single, blue crayon, and it's, NO! NO! NO! No more kids, ever.So how do you cut through those everyday moments of indecision, to get to the real answer of whether you should have another baby? Try asking yourself these six things:
1. How do you feel when you get your period?
Is it, relief or sadness? Last month my period was a welcome relief. I have a 10-month-old baby, a three-year-old, and an almost six-year-old. We've got enough going on! But this month it was different. I felt a little sad, and began to think, what if? What if our family is not quite complete yet? What if we had another baby?
2. How do you feel when you see a newborn?
Do you feel love sick, or just sick? I see an infant, and my heart swells. An involuntary, "aww," escapes my lips. I can't help it! I love how a newborn smells, I love her soft, delicious skin. Babies are heaven, pure and simple. And having another one is starting to feel like the greatest idea ever!
3. What do you picture your life to be like with another child?
Is life overwhelmingly hectic or charmingly challenging? I don't picture a scenario replete with loud crashes, screaming children, me trembling, gripping a too-full glass of wine, crying in frustration, as little people slowly take over my house, and my life. Instead, I see happiness. I picture smiles, hugs, cuddles, love and giggles. Oh, there's craziness too, believe you me. But mainly I hear The Beatles' song "All You Need Is Love," playing in my head when I imagine being a mom to four kids.
4. What would life be like if you didn't have another baby?
Arrow straight through the heart. Ouch. No, the truth is I've felt conflicted about having another baby for a while. Life is great the way it is. Life is full. We are parents to three, beautiful, funny, silly, smart, wonderful girls. Why mess with what is working pretty darn well for us? When I think this way, another baby seems like a bad idea...
5. What is your biggest reason for wanting another baby?
Is something still missing? Or, is it just hard to imagine closing that door yet? There are so many reasons I want another baby. I still long to feel a baby kick inside of me. I yearn to hold a newborn in my arms, knowing that I did that; I made that. I have also loved, loved seeing how my children love, and care about each other. Being witness to their sisterly bond has been the greatest privilege of my life. I know that adding to our family would just bring more love, and joy.
6. What is your biggest fear about having another baby?
I worry about tempting fate if we have another baby. Can I really be lucky enough to bring four healthy babies into the world? No one could be that lucky; it just isn't fair. Right? Sigh. I don't know."
By Uma Naidoo | December 07, 2018 | Updated March 27, 2019
"The human microbiome, or gut environment, is a community of different bacteria that has co-evolved with humans to be beneficial to both a person and the bacteria. Researchers agree that a person’s unique microbiome is created within the first 1,000 days of life, but there are things you can do to alter your gut environment throughout your life.
Ultra-processed foods and gut health
What we eat, especially foods that contain chemical additives and ultra-processed foods, affects our gut environment and increases our risk of diseases. Ultra-processed foods contain substances extracted from food (such as sugar and starch), added from food constituents (hydrogenated fats), or made in a laboratory (flavor enhancers, food colorings). It’s important to know that ultra-processed foods such as fast foods are manufactured to be extra tasty by the use of such ingredients or additives, and are cost effective to the consumer. These foods are very common in the typical Western diet. Some examples of processed foods are canned foods, sugar-coated dried fruits, and salted meat products. Some examples of ultra-processed foods are soda, sugary or savory packaged snack foods, packaged breads, buns and pastries, fish or chicken nuggets, and instant noodle soups.
Researchers recommend “fixing the food first” (in other words, what we eat) before trying gut modifying-therapies (probiotics, prebiotics) to improve how we feel. They suggest eating whole foods and avoiding processed and ultra-processed foods that we know cause inflammation and disease.
But what does my gut have to do with my mood?
When we consider the connection between the brain and the gut, it’s important to know that 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut. In the relatively new field of nutritional psychiatry we help patients understand how gut health and diet can positively or negatively affect their mood. When someone is prescribed an antidepressant such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), the most common side effects are gut-related, and many people temporarily experience nausea, diarrhea, or gastrointestinal problems. There is anatomical and physiologic two-way communication between the gut and brain via the vagus nerve. The gut-brain axis offers us a greater understanding of the connection between diet and disease, including depression and anxiety.
When the balance between the good and bad bacteria is disrupted, diseases may occur. Examples of such diseases include: inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), asthma, obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cognitive and mood problems. For example, IBD is caused by dysfunction in the interactions between microbes (bacteria), the gut lining, and the immune system.
Diet and depressionA recent study suggests that eating a healthy, balanced diet such as the Mediterranean diet and avoiding inflammation-producing foods may be protective against depression. Another study outlines an Antidepressant Food Scale, which lists 12 antidepressant nutrients related to the prevention and treatment of depression. Some of the foods containing these nutrients are oysters, mussels, salmon, watercress, spinach, romaine lettuce, cauliflower, and strawberries.
A better diet can help, but it’s only one part of treatment. It’s important to note that just like you cannot exercise out of a bad diet, you also cannot eat your way out of feeling depressed or anxious.
We should be careful about using food as the only treatment for mood, and when we talk about mood problems we are referring to mild and moderate forms of depression and anxiety. In other words, food is not going to impact serious forms of depression and thoughts of suicide, and it is important to seek treatment in an emergency room or contact your doctor if you are experiencing thoughts about harming yourself.
Suggestions for a healthier gut and improved mood
By: Bethany Braun-Silva
"Expecting parents have multiple checklists of everything they need to get ready for their baby’s arrival. Cribs, bottles, car seats, and strollers are just a few of the essentials you need to consider before welcoming a new baby. But even before any of that, there’s the hospital bag checklist. A robe, a nightgown, slippers, and a few blankets are sure to make the list, but oftentimes, a postpartum recovery kit gets overlooked.
A postpartum recovery kit has what moms need to help with bleeding, soreness, and overall discomfort. You can create your own kit by buying things like disposable underwear, ice packs, and perineal spray separately, but there are also ready-made kits for moms that include all these things and more.
Many moms agree that postpartum recovery kits are a great choice. The Frida Mom Hospital Packing Kit for Labor, Delivery, Postpartum, for example, has over 1,000 five-star reviews on Amazon and a near-perfect 4.8-star rating. “I would 100% say that every postpartum experience needs this kit,” writes one customer. “I think it’s well worth the price for the comfort you’re getting.”
The Miloo Mom Hospital Labor and Delivery Gift Packing Kit for Delivery, Postpartum is also a great choice available on Amazon. One reviewer writes, “I was very impressed with my kit, and I used all of it when I was in the hospital.”
Convenience is so important when you have a new baby, especially when it comes to your healing. The first six weeks after giving birth are a critical time in the healing process, and having the right tools handy can make all the difference in your physical (and mental) health. If you’re pregnant or know someone who is, check out the postpartum recovery kits below."
By: Cedars-Sinai Staff| October 21, 2019
"The biggest misconception women have about exercising while pregnant is that they can't do it at all, says Dr. Keren Lerner, OB-GYN at Cedars-Sinai. "It's not uncommon for women to wonder if working out during pregnancy will put the baby at risk," says Dr. Lerner. "I get asked that a lot."
Not only is it safe for pregnant women to exercise, but engaging in physical activity while pregnant can be beneficial for the health of a woman and her baby.
It can reduce the risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and hypertensive disorders during pregnancy. It can also minimize discomfort.
The American Pregnancy Association recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day for women who have a normal, healthy pregnancy.
The best types of workouts for pregnant women
It's important to know that not all pregnancy workouts are created equal.
Dr. Lerner says workouts like Barre and Pilates are great because they focus on core strength, which can make the delivery and recovery process easier.
"Prenatal yoga classes can be great for mind, body, soul, and core," Dr. Lerner says, as long as women are careful not to overextend their backs with deep bends or twists.
She also recommends swimming, especially in the third trimester.
"When there's more weight being carried, a lot of women end up with back pain," Dr. Lerner says.
"Because gravity is less of an issue in the water, women tend to be more comfortable in the pool."
No matter what workout they choose, pregnant women should drink plenty of water and take a rest if they start to feel dizzy or lightheaded while exercising.
Workouts to avoid when pregnant
All pregnant women should avoid contact sports, as well as activities like skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, horseback riding, and scuba diving.
If the pregnancy is high risk, women should talk to their doctor about their workout options.
Women should also seek medical advice if they get injured while exercising.
While 30 minutes of daily activity during pregnancy is recommended, women who enjoy working out aren't limited to this, Dr. Lerner says.
"Certainly those who are used to working out or have active jobs or lifestyles can endure more," Dr. Lerner says.
"They just need to be sure they're listening to their bodies."
Perinatal Mental Health: How to Tell if You're Struggling With Mental Health During Pregnancy and Postpartum
"How can you tell if you're struggling with mental health during pregnancy and postpartum?"
By: Women's College Hospital
"Lifestyle changes to improve and prevent symptoms of depression and anxiety."
I knew he’d run the other way if I jumped too quickly into a medical referral or diagnosis, so we started with the most human approaches — connecting about what was really going on for him, and exploring readily available lifestyle changes that aligned with his interest, motivation, and values. Within weeks, his spark started to come back, and within months he felt he had a new lease on life. He wasn’t suddenly happy all the time. But he felt a new sense of his capacity to take charge of his mental health.
Will everyone have an outcome like Roy from lifestyle changes? Definitely not — anxiety and depression are complex conditions with tremendous individual variation, varied underlying causes, and varied levels of severity. But can everyone benefit from learning the foundation for how to care for their mind either separately or as an adjunct to professional treatment? I believe so.
The following seven health behaviors are key ones linked to prevention or symptom improvement of anxiety and depression.
While everything on this list is simple, it’s far from easy. Change is hard. And if you currently have depression or anxiety, it can be especially challenging. That’s why one of the key behaviors is being kind to yourself.
If moved to do so, choose one area to work on at a time, perhaps an area you feel especially motivated or confident to address, or an area that feels aligned with your most important values. Then take it one step at a time. The funny thing about change is we often don’t know it’s happening, we just keep rowing in the right direction, and usually after a few, or a few thousand, twists and turns, we look back in awe at how far we’ve come.
While 10-18% of adults in the U.S. experience chronic sleep issues, this number jumps to 65-90% of those with depression, and over 50% of those with generalized anxiety disorder. Of those with depression, 65% had sleep issues first. Addressing sleep issues can alleviate symptoms of mental health conditions, and given sleep problems are a risk factor for mental health conditions, can also help protect your mental health.
There are many resources to help improve your sleep, such as this free app.
A disposition that tends towards self-critical, or perfectionistic, can be a risk factor for anxiety and depression. This can include feeling like you must be perfect to be accepted, an inability to accept flaws within yourself, intense self-scrutiny, or an unrealistic sense of others’ expectations and your capacity to meet them.
Despite the fear of many who have this characteristic, the antidote to perfectionism isn’t letting it all go, or saying goodbye to standards – it’s self-compassion. According to researcher Kristen Neff, self-compassion has three components: self-kindness vs. self-judgment, common humanity vs. isolation, mindfulness vs. overidentification. How we treat ourselves through the ups and downs of life can have a tremendous impact on health and mental health.
3. Social Connection
From the time we are born, we need social connection in order to thrive.
A recent study lead by researchers at Harvard sought to understand what could most protect us from depression that is within our control. After analyzing over 100 potential factors, they found that social connection was by far the most important protective factor.
It’s been a lonely year for many. And many are anxious at the prospect of going back to normal. But connection doesn’t mean a big party or bustling office. It can be confiding in one trusted person about how you’re really doing, listening to how someone else is really doing, giving a meaningful thank you, or having a (safe) visit with any family member or friend. If this feels out of reach, try making a short list of people who at any point have given you a sense of belonging. Other studies have shown that just calling positive relationships to mind can have a positive impact on our capacity to tolerate stress."
By: Catherine Pearson | 10/28/2020
"It's not just right after giving birth. A new study shows that for a significant number of moms, symptoms persist for years."
"When Jane gave birth to her baby 10 years ago, she very quickly began experiencing significant postpartum depression. It felt as though her brain had been abruptly “rewired,” and her symptoms grew worse over time.
“It felt like there was this thing in me that took root and grew,” said Jane, 47, who asked to use only her first name for this story. “Especially feeling suicidal. Those thoughts had a life of their own.”
As the months passed after giving birth, Jane found herself making clearer and clearer plans for how she’d take her own life. She recalls at one point, when her son was 3, nearly pointing out an overpass from which she could easily jump while strolling with her toddler and husband — then immediately recoiling. Not from the thought itself, but from the fact that she had almost casually given her “secret” away.
When her son turned 4, Jane finally recognized her own need to get help and got a prescription for Prozac. Practically overnight, her thoughts of suicide disappeared. And despite the fact that it was years after she had given birth, the roots of her depression felt obvious.
“For me, it could not be more clear that what I had was postpartum depression,” said Jane, who often worried she’d sound “crazy” if she opened up about what she was experiencing — particularly because she adored her son. “It felt almost like my brain was rewired during pregnancy.”
New research published in the journal Pediatrics this week supports what parents like Jane, as well as mental health professionals who specialize in the issue, have long known: that “postpartum” depression is not just something that strikes in the weeks and months immediately following childbirth. It can last for years and grow worse with time.
In the study, which tracked 5,000 mothers in New York over time, one-quarter of the women experienced elevated depression symptoms at some point in the three years after giving birth.
Of course, up to 80% of new moms experience some version of the so-called “baby blues” in the first few weeks after delivery. They may feel sad, anxious and cry a lot. Their moods may shift rapidly as their hormones fluctuate and they learn to care for a vulnerable new infant on extremely little sleep.
Postpartum depression may be more severe (though not always) and lasts longer, often appearing weeks after giving birth but sometimes not for a full year — or, as this new research suggests, even longer. It builds on a recent scientific review that found up to 50% of moms with postpartum depression struggle beyond the first year.
Expanding our collective understanding of how long postpartum depression can persist is important largely because of screening.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — which sets the guidelines OB-GYNs and other women’s health providers often use — recommends at least one screening for postpartum depression using an official tool or questionnaire. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends pediatricians screen for mental health issues in patients at various points in the first six months after they’ve given birth.
But that timeline may not do enough to catch those who are struggling, particularly because many patients with postpartum depression are reluctant to speak about what they’re experiencing out of a sense that their symptoms somehow mean they are bad parents.
That is why the authors of the new study clearly state that screening within the first year after giving birth is insufficient and that pediatricians should consider assessing patients for at least the first two years after they have a baby.
“We know that if a PMAD [perinatal mood and anxiety disorder] is untreated, it can continue. The symptoms can become worse, and many women can ride them right into a subsequent pregnancy,” echoed Paige Bellenbaum, chief external relations officer for The Motherhood Center, a mental health clinic based in New York City.
Even so, Bellenbaum believes far too few pediatricians, OB-GYNs and midwives meet even the current bare minimum recommendations for screening patients for depression and anxiety — to say nothing of assessing how they’re doing years down the road."
by Alexandra Samuel-Sturgess| February 5, 2021
"The best way to feel empowered during your pregnancy and birthing experience is through education on the process and exercising your right to choose. This starts with making your first prenatal appointment. Making that appointment is imperative, but can feel scary if you do not know what to expect.
Here are eight steps to help you feel empowered during pregnancy and as you enter into parenthood.
Contact your Insurance Provider
If you do not have insurance at the time of pregnancy, you have options. Please reach out to your local social service agency for assistance with State Assisted Medicaid in order for you to have access to prenatal care.
If you already have health insurance, it is time to do some research. Contact your insurance provider to understand your benefits during pregnancy, which may cover the cost of a birthing center or doula support. Also, speak with your insurance company to discuss preferences for your doctor such as sex of the doctor, ethnic preference, language preference, location preference, etc. You have a right to request what you would like; do not be afraid to ask!
Prepare to Meet Your Provider
Now that your insurance has provided you with options and you have your first appointment scheduled, it’s time for a visit. When getting ready for your first appointment prepare some questions for your provider to help you determine if it’s going to be a good fit. The best way to do this is by having them prewritten on good old fashioned paper or on your phone.
You might be wondering what to ask. Here are a few questions to start:
You made it to your first visit, and the receptionist gives you a clipboard to complete information and documents to sign. Be sure to read the informed consent and pay close attention to your rights as a patient. Learn what to do if you ever need to file a grievance, feel pressured by the doctor, midwife, or staff to participate in testing, or if someone refuses to explain procedures. You have a right to file a complaint with your insurance company and with your state’s medical board if the violation you experienced is egregious.
Ask for Clear Explanations of all Procedures
Now that you have read your informed consent and have your prepared questions for your provider, they will call you back to your appointment. Once you go behind that closed door, ask your provider to explain what will be done during this appointment. It is important for medical professionals to explain what procedures will be done during the visit.
If at any time you feel uncomfortable, please speak up! If you plan to bring a support person such as a partner, friend, or family member to this first visit, it might be helpful to think of a code word beforehand, so your support person can speak up for you if you become overwhelmed.
Don’t forget to ask the questions that you prepared. Feel free to take notes as they answer your questions. Notice how they respond to questions. Do you feel heard or is the provider rushing you? After the visit, take time to reflect on whether or not you felt comfortable with the provider during your appointment. This is a huge deal because if you are not comfortable, it is going to be hard to ask questions or feel as though you are receiving quality care. If you did not feel comfortable, it is okay to search for a different provider. You will be in the care of this individual for 9 months, so it is important to have the right team of people supporting you. You want to feel empowered during your pregnancy.
Bottom line: Tune in to how you feel. As a birthing person, you have choices and rights no matter what birthing environment you choose. If you don’t feel comfortable at any point during your pregnancy, it’s not too late to find a new environment or provider.
Take Advantage of Opportunities for Education
What creates an empowered pregnancy? Education, education, education! Education allows you to make the best decisions for yourself and your family. Search online for different birth techniques and methodologies, and then find a class at your hospital, with a local organization, or even online!
Take time early in pregnancy to think about how you want your labor and delivery to go. Do research on classes that are in alignment with what you desire during the birthing process. There is something out there for whatever you want your birth to look like. Attending various classes can help you learn about different decisions you will have to make once the baby is born. Classes can help you think through decisions like knowing when you want to cut the cord, what newborn procedures you want your baby to have, when to do baby’s first bath, and infant feeding. Education allows space to have conversations and ask for help where needed so you can have an empowered pregnancy.
Find a Community of Support for an Empowered Pregnancy
Nothing says empowerment like community. Join a group in your local community or online for additional support. Find a group of expecting pregnant people so you can add to your support team. Every new parent needs support, so do not be afraid; get involved. There is so much power in feeling understood by someone who has been through what you’re experiencing.
Prioritize your Physical Health
Proper nutrition before, during, and after pregnancy can improve birth outcomes and has significant implications for maternal health. Focusing on whole foods especially fruits and vegetables, eating enough protein and limiting processed food can play a role in reducing the risk of pregnancy-related complications, such as preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition that disproportionately impacts Black pregnant people and can be a result of the long-term psychological toll of racism as well as current systemic barriers to proper treatment that delay the diagnosis or treatment of the condition. If this all sounds like a daunting task, you are encouraged to seek guidance from your doctor, midwife, doula, or support team.
Doulas can support your nutrition by offering suggestions for healthy meals and providing accountability and support. They can also make sure you’re being monitored for early warning signs of pregnancy-related complications.
Last but not least, physical exercise is another important aspect of prioritizing your physical health. Yes, it is safe to exercise while pregnant! Walking regularly, stretching, and yoga have been found to have significant benefits during pregnancy for both you and your baby. Being idle and sedentary during pregnancy presents its own risks, so do not be afraid to get your body moving. There are modified workouts that are readily available to pregnant persons. It is important for pregnant persons to speak with their provider about exercises that are safe for them.
If you need help finding easy, delicious recipes that focus on healthy fats, protein, and fruits/vegetables, check out our 5-ingredients or less recipe generator. Click to learn more about the benefits of doing a Whole30 while pregnant!
Prioritize your Mental Health
Focusing on your physical health during pregnancy is important; however, do not neglect your mental health. Venturing into parenthood is wonderful and stressful at the same time. If you are feeling overly anxious or depressed, ask for help.
Mental health professionals can equip you with tools for how to manage your stress, learn how to better communicate with your partner, heal emotional wounds, and help you replace toxic thoughts with more positive ones. Look for a trained perinatal mental health professional."
By Christine Michel Carter| August 16, 2019
"Moms of color have an increased risk of experiencing PPD and related disorders than women in other ethnic groups, but fear is keeping them from getting the treatment they need. Here’s why, and how Black families can get the right mental health support."
"During her first year as a mom, Karen Flores, then 31 years old, was afraid she was not emotionally stable enough to take care of her daughter. On the particularly hard days, Flores would take a walk with her daughter on the beach. “Out of nowhere, this bizarre thought came to my mind ‘push the stroller over the rocks and see what happens,’” she wrote on the site Maternal Mental Health Now. “I was paralyzed by the thought but forced myself to keep on walking while wondering where it had come from—'Oh, My God, am I crazy?' I wondered.”
Flores, now 50, was not crazy. She was suffering from postpartum depression, a condition that affects up to one in seven women, according to the American Psychological Association. Flores didn’t immediately seek out help. “I was extremely anxious and ashamed thinking that I was losing my mind and that my baby would be taken from me,” she says. “I tried praying and did a lot of cardio.” Before her daughter’s second birthday, she began working with a therapist to manage the symptoms of her depression.
Black women like Flores are less likely to get help for postpartum mental health issues compared to both white women and Latinas, according to a study published in the journal Psychiatric Services. Part of this hesitation is caused by fear—these women fear they will be considered unfit and have their children taken away from them by Child Protective Services. These fears are not unwarranted since one in nine Black children will spend time in foster care by the time they're 18, according to data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. This is the second-highest risk racial/ethnic group to end up in the foster care system behind Native American children.
“There’s a lack of trust of medical practitioners within the Black mom community nationwide,” explains Shivonne Odom, LCPC, LPC, founder of Akoma Counseling Concepts, LLC, in Silver Spring, Maryland, who specializes in maternal mental health counseling for mothers with perinatal disorders. “Many medical practitioners are not trained to refer or treat perinatal mood disorders so when they hear patients report typical symptoms of postpartum depression, practitioners mistake the severity of the symptoms for abuse.” Odom, who is Black herself, adds that many practitioners do not recognize a difference in how perinatal mood disorders present among ethnic groups. “This leads to improper treatment or poor rapport between practitioner and client,” she says.
Postpartum depression, anxiety, and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders can affect any mother and can manifest up to one year after delivery. However, there are cultural nuances during pregnancy, labor, and delivery that can increase the risks of experiencing PPD for Black mothers. Statistics show that Black women are three to four times more likely to die during or after delivery than white women. From 2011 to 2015, there were 42.8 deaths per 100,000 live births for Black non-Hispanic women—a higher ratio than any other ethnic group. “These statistics along with birth trauma and untreated mental health issues prior to and during pregnancy may lead to postpartum depression,” Odom says.
Suffering in silence
Odom says she often sees the same themes preventing Black mothers from seeking mental health therapy. First, there’s the fear of losing control, independence, respect from others, or mental sanity. “Sometimes holding in this fear leads to a manifestation of irrational thoughts—'I’m not a good mom,’ ‘I feel empty,’ ‘I’m not emotionally connecting to my baby,’” she says. “The belief that something is wrong, which must mean I’m doing something wrong and I’m a bad mom is an extension of these irrational thoughts.”
Then she often hears that these women would prefer to seek help from their friends, family, and church rather than a mental health professional. “There’s definitely a cultural stigma discouraging mental health counseling in the Black community,” Odom explains. “Some believe that if you go to therapy you have to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital or will be required to take addictive prescription medications. Some people’s religious beliefs also shape their views on mental health and can impact their help-seeking behaviors.” There’s also concern passed down from generation to generation that mental health practitioners are suspicious of Black mothers."