Pregnancy-related Depression & Anxiety

by Kelly Stainback-Tracy, MPH, Perinatal Infant Mental Health Specialist, Denver Public Health

Why it Matters in Early Childhood Settings

Pregnancy-related depression and anxiety are the most common complications of pregnancy, affecting about one in seven women nationally. They can occur any time during pregnancy through the baby’s first birthday. They also may happen after a miscarriage, pregnancy loss or after adopting a baby. Unlike the “baby blues, “ which are normal emotional swings that occur after birth and resolve within two weeks of delivery, pregnancy-related depression and anxiety are serious conditions that affect a women’s physical and mental health. Symptoms differ for everyone, but may include the following:stuffed elephant w/caption: let's talk about the elephant in the room

  • Feelings of anger or irritability
  • Lack of interest in the baby
  • Loss of appetite and trouble sleeping
  • Crying and sadness
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, or hopelessness
Why is it important to early childhood professionals?

Pregnancy-related depression and anxiety are important for early childhood professionals to know about because they can have lasting impact on the health and well-being of the whole family. The symptoms of depression and anxiety during pregnancy or after delivery may impact the way a mother interacts with her baby. This can impair the mother-infant bonding and may interfere with the child’s emotional development and ability to learn. Research indicates that children of mothers who are depressed or anxious are more likely to experience developmental delays and behavioral challenges. When early childhood professionals recognize and understand pregnancy-related depression, they are better able to support both the mother and the child.

Although pregnancy related depression and anxiety are common, many women feel uncomfortable talking about their symptoms. Our society often portrays pregnancy and early parenting as “the happiest time of your life.” For a mother to admit to feeling anything else during this time can be very difficult. Women often feel guilty about their symptoms and may be reluctant to share what they are feeling with others. Recognizing the symptoms and encouraging women to seek support is important because pregnancy-related depression and anxiety are treatable through self-care, social support and counseling.

What can early childhood professionals do?

Early childhood professionals are in a unique position to recognize symptoms of pregnancy-related depression because they see families regularly. Asking mothers about how they are doing, helping struggling mothers to understand that they are not alone, and encouraging them to reach out for support are important ways for early childhood professionals can help mother and baby get off to the best start possible. Starting the conversation about symptoms can be difficult, but often begins with genuine, caring questions. Mothers are so used to getting questions about their baby, but asking her how she is doing is a powerful way to demonstrate care and concern for the whole family. Here are some examples of ways to start conversations:sad stuffed teddy bear w text: know a mom who's feeling down?

  • Taking care of a baby is hard sometimes. How have you been doing?
  • Parenting can be overwhelming. Are you finding ways to take care of yourself?
  • Parenting is hard, and talking with others can help. We are happy to connect you with other families or community resources.

Another way to support mothers is to reduce stigma associated with pregnancy related depression and anxiety. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recently launched an educational campaign about pregnancy related depression and anxiety. The campaign is designed to help women and the people who care about them to recognize symptoms, realize they are not alone, and encourage them to seek support. The campaign materials include information about how to contact Postpartum Support International, a free service offering support and referral in both English and Spanish. Printed materials such as posters, flyers, and fact sheets will be available for display in early childhood settings.baby bottle, top tied in knot; text: don't let her keep her feelings bottled up

Want to learn more?

I am available to provide training about pregnancy related depression and anxiety. If you are interested in hosting a training or receiving the print materials referenced above, contact me at Kelly.stainback@dhha.org or 303-602-8725.

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