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Women's Behavioral Health: Pregnancy and Postpartum Services at UPMC in Central Pa.

The psychiatrists and therapists at Women’s Behavioral Health Specialists help women manage mental health conditions that occur during pregnancy and after childbirth.

Treatment for stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions during pregnancy and after childbirth depends on the specific cause, your symptoms, and the severity of your condition. Depending on your condition, your doctor may recommend one or more treatments, including:

  • Medications. Our psychiatrists may prescribe medications to treat a full range of psychiatric conditions during pregnancy and the postpartum. We will work with you and your OB/GYN to individualize medication recommendations. In making the safest and most effective treatment recommendations, we consider the severity of your symptoms and the risks to you and your unborn (or breastfeeding) child.
  • Counseling. Our practice offers one-on-one counseling and group therapy to help women discuss and manage stress, depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. Our specialists may also recommend exercise therapy, light therapy, or other alternative options to help you manage your condition.

What are pregnancy and postpartum mental health conditions?

Caring for a newborn can be stressful, so it is normal for women to experience a range of emotions after childbirth. Many women experience the “baby blues,” which are caused by changes in hormone levels and typically go away within a few weeks as hormone levels stabilize.

However, some women in pregnancy or the postpartum develop feelings of depression and anxiety that are severe and don’t go away. And, women who have pre-existing mental health conditions may experience worsening symptoms during pregnancy and in the weeks after childbirth.

Mental health issues that may require treatment during pregnancy or after childbirth include:

  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Marital or relationship stress
  • Panic attacks
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Birth-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Pre-existing mental health conditions
  • Psychosis (or severe mood symptoms)

What are the symptoms of pregnancy and postpartum mental health conditions?

You should get help if you experience symptoms of depression or anxiety that last for more than a few days. Symptoms may include:

  • A loss of interest in everyday activities
  • Depression that doesn't seem to go away
  • Strain in your personal relationships
  • Difficulty thinking about anything other than your baby
  • High levels of anxiety, stress, or worry
  • Inability to focus on completing tasks and difficulty concentrating
  • Inability to care for your baby or yourself
  • Changes in sleep patterns (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, early morning awakening, sleeping more than usual)
  • A marked increase or decrease in your appetite and weight
  • An increase in your use of drugs or alcohol
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Thoughts of harming your baby
  • Social isolation
  • Persistent feelings of pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, bitterness, or anger

Symptoms of mental health conditions may show up during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth, but may develop weeks or months later.

Rarely, women may develop a serious mental health condition called pregnancy or postpartum psychosis, which may cause delusions, hallucinations, confusion, memory loss, paranoia, and frantic activity. This is considered a medical emergency and may put both the woman and her pregnancy or newborn child at risk.

Who is at risk for pregnancy and postpartum mental health conditions?

Any woman can develop pregnancy or postpartum emotional and behavioral issues. However, if you have a personal or family history of mental health conditions, you may be at a higher risk of developing a mental health condition during pregnancy or after childbirth. And if you experienced a mental health disorder in a previous pregnancy or postpartum, you are at higher risk for similar symptoms if untreated in a subsequent pregnancy.

You may also be at risk for pregnancy or postpartum mental health conditions if you experience another stressful life event or severe, ongoing stress around the time of your baby’s birth.

How can I prevent pregnancy and postpartum mental health conditions?

The best way to prevent mental health issues is to be proactive about your mental and emotional condition and get help at the first signs of problems.

It may help to eat well, exercise, give yourself time during the day to relax, and spend time doing activities you enjoy. You may also benefit by getting help caring for your baby so you can have some time for yourself. Deep breathing, guided imagery, yoga and massage may also help you relax.

Need more information?

Phone: 717-988-9430

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