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In this guest post from Oregon Counselor Associate and Core Values Counseling team member, Josie Self, we’re digging into a topic that’s not discussed often enough: perinatal mood disorders.

Difficulties of the perinatal period


The perinatal period, considered pregnancy through the first year postpartum, is a time of great joy but also change, exhaustion, and being pushed to what feels like far beyond your limits. 

Many mothers struggle with holding this delicate balance. I often hear mothers share, “If this baby is a gift then why do I feel guilty for not enjoying every minute of motherhood?” Or “I miss my old life.” Or “I’m not sure I was cut out for this.” For some mothers, these first two years are blissful and fulfilling, but for many others, it is not. 

Around 20% of mothers will develop a perinatal mental health disorder. These can be caused by many factors such as delivery complications, pre-existing underlying mental health conditions, trouble breastfeeding, lack of support at home, financial difficulties, birth trauma, and the impacts of systemic racism. The good news is that with the proper support, all perinatal mental health disorders are 100% treatable! Many moms struggle to know what their symptoms mean, especially when they’re just overwhelmed by being a new mom. It’s often hard to decipher what symptoms warrant the care of a qualified mental health professional. For example, they may wonder, “is this just baby blues, or is this postpartum depression?” 

Let’s take a closer look at some common perinatal mental health disorders. 


7 common perinatal mental health disorders



Depression might look like sadness, crying, loss of interest in people or hobbies, difficulty bonding with your baby, lack of motivation to care for oneself, or fatigue. Note: while postpartum depression is most often associated with mothers, 1 in 10 dads suffer from postpartum depression, too.


Anxiety is often marked by worry, scary and/or racing thoughts, and feelings of dread and overwhelm. Symptoms can also be physical and may include headache, nausea, trembling, sweaty palms, etc.


Panic can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including panic attacks (a tight chest, increased heart rate, shakiness, and feelings of lightheadedness), insomnia, loss of appetite, and extreme fear and worry. 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessions, also called intrusive thoughts, are persistent, repetitive thoughts or mental images. These thoughts are very upsetting. Sometimes these thoughts/obsessions are paired with compulsions to reduce fears and obsessions. Compulsions may include things like needing to clean constantly, checking things many times, wanting to count or reorder things, and the like. There are hundreds of different ways compulsions can show up. 

Bipolar disorder 

The hallmark of bipolar disorder is a pattern of highs and lows. Bipolar disorder is marked by periods of mania (high energy) which in some cases can last a few days (hypomania) to months (mania) and episodes of depression.


Post-traumatic stress disorder is often marked by symptoms of nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, and irritability. This could come up during the perinatal period for many different reasons. Some include: past childhood trauma, previous sexual trauma, traumatic birth, or medical trauma. 

Some mothers have also experienced complex trauma which is the repetitive and sustained exposure to “big T” or “little t” traumas. These often have to do with attachment injuries which can often be triggered by becoming a parent.  


A less common issue, postpartum psychosis, occurs in 1 in 1000 mothers. This is a break from reality and can include hallucinations, delusions, and thoughts/plans of harm. Postpartum psychosis is temporary and treatable, but it is an emergency, and it is essential that you receive immediate medical help.


What you should know as a new mom (or mom-to-be)


One of the main reasons many of these perinatal mental health disorders go untreated is that mothers suffer alone. They often feel shame or guilt for their lack of joy, increased anger, or intrusive thoughts. They fear that if they share how they’re really doing, they’ll be judged for being a “bad mom” or seen as ungrateful. 

In the perinatal therapist community, we have a phrase which is, “You are not alone. You are not to blame. And with help you will become whole.” 

But where do you go for help?

Where to find help


There are three main avenues for help: peer support, mental health counseling, and medical treatment. Some people need just one, some need all three and that is okay

Peer support

Peer support looks like finding a group of trusted friends with whom you can share your feelings and experiences. 

You can also connect with organizations that offer peer support groups specifically targeted at learning more about perinatal mental health disorders and open sharing. Postpartum Support International (PSI) is a great resource, and you can find an online support group here.

Mental health counseling

Mental health counseling looks like recruiting the help of a licensed therapist who has training in treating the perinatal population. Not only can they help you process the changes you’ve experienced, but they will know how to help you differentiate between merely feeling overwhelmed and something more serious. 

Perinatal therapists understand the unique emotional, mental, physical, and physiological stressors that new moms experience. They are also excellent at helping moms build coping skills and helping to resolve unwanted symptoms of disorders of postpartum anxiety, depression, and more. 

To get connected with a licensed therapist, visit the PSI directory

Medical treatment

Medical treatment involves talking to your primary care provider about the use of medication to help manage symptoms that are disrupting everyday life. Some mothers find that the use of an antidepressant helps tremendously as they navigate the early years of their postpartum journey. 


You deserve to feel better


Here’s the bottom line: No mother should suffer alone. You deserve to feel healthy again, and with help, you can.

Perinatal mental health disorders are not your fault and are curable with the right support. If something feels wrong, please listen to your intuition and seek help rather than trying to ignore it.

And wherever you are in your journey, remember: You are a good mom. Full stop.