Is it postpartum depression?

No one can seem to agree on what to call mental health challenges that come up during pregnancy and postpartum.
Posted 2023-06-13T15:34:00+00:00 - Updated 2023-06-13T15:34:00+00:00
Maternal Mental Health (Adobe Stock)

No one can seem to agree on what to call mental health challenges that come up during pregnancy and postpartum. Most parents will just say “postpartum” to refer to emotional distress during this time because saying words like “anxiety” and “depression” carry too much stigma. I often hear something like “I didn’t think I’d get postpartum.”

Medical providers and the media still mainly use “postpartum depression” or “PPD “even though these challenges come up during pregnancy and can look very different from depression. Even the diagnostic manual for licensed healthcare professionals still only uses “peripartum depression.”

I’ve also heard “maternal mental health complications,” but it’s not just moms who struggle during this time; Dads, partners, birthing people: they all can struggle emotionally and mentally before and after a baby arrives.

Experts focused on this subject have been using the term Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders or PMADs for quite some time, and now there is a shift towards using Perinatal Mental Health Disorders or PMHDs. Either way, these are much better choices than PPD.

I’m not a medical professional, but I have been working with people experiencing perinatal mental health challenges for the last eight years as a support group facilitator and now program manager, and I’ve probably spoken with over 5,000 pregnant and postpartum people about their symptoms and challenges, and here is what I have learned:

  • We shouldn’t use the term “maternal” unless we really only mean moms. If you are referring to a “mom,” then maternal is the right word, but if you mean anyone who can parent or give birth, then you’ve got the wrong word. That’s why “perinatal” works best for most situations.
  • We should avoid using the term “postpartum,” unless you really mean only after giving birth. And even the term “postpartum” is a bit debatable depending on who you ask. Is it 6 weeks after birth or 12 months? Perinatal mood challenges can come up during pregnancy and postpartum, and often they appear after 6 weeks. Feeding changes, going back to work, other complications: so much happens in that first year that could change the way a parent is feeling. Also, pregnancy does not actually make most people feel like they are “glowing.” Pregnancy can be an exhausting and anxious time for so many, and using the term “PPD” doesn’t include pregnancy.
  • We should use more than just “depression.” Depression is common during pregnancy and postpartum. That’s for sure. But so is anxiety and panic. Using the word “depression” creates a barrier and confusion for parents who are feeling constantly worried or having scary, intrusive thoughts. These feelings and thoughts are also very common.

There are 7 main challenges that occur during pregnancy and postpartum (and these can also co-occur): depression, anxiety, panic, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar and psychosis.

Mental health challenges during pregnancy and postpartum can look like a lot more than depression, and they can happen from conception up to one-year postpartum. The good news is all of these challenges are treatable with the right help and resources. Reach out if you are looking for support.

Some resources: