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Busting 5 Myths About Postpartum Depression

People with postpartum depression do not hurt their babies! We unpack the five common fallacies behind this harmful myth.


Anna King LCSW, PMH-C

Clinical Training Specialist, Maternal Mental Health NOW

1. Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) occur only in women who give birth

Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders do not only occur in women. They can occur in all birthing people and non-gestational carriers including fathers, partners, and supporting caregivers. Birthing people refers to individuals who can give birth and is not limited to cisgender women, but includes transgender, non-binary, and other gender expansive people. People who experience perinatal loss, are engaging fertility treatments, or become parents by way of adoption are also at risk of developing a perinatal mood disorder along their journey.

2. Postpartum psychosis is a complication of postpartum depression

Postpartum psychosis is a very different and separate condition than postpartum depression and is characterized by fixed delusions and a break with reality. They are not the same illness. Postpartum psychosis is extremely rare and only occurs in approximately one in every 1000 births, and of those an estimated four to five percent end in harm to the child or parent. Symptoms of postpartum psychosis may emerge in the days following birth and are often fully expressed by one month postpartum. Postpartum depression and anxiety may occur up to one year postpartum. Postpartum psychosis is also treatable.

3. Psychotropic medication is not a safe option during pregnancy or while lactating

Medication-assisted treatment may be an effective option for many in their mental health journey as a supplement to other approaches to improving wellness in the perinatal period. There are a number of medication options proven to be effective and safe in improving parental mental health in addition to sleep routines, exercise, psychotherapy, support groups, and social support. It is important for birthing people to seek professional help in order to make an informed decision by weighing the risks and benefits with a trained prescriber, as treatment and wellness planning is not one size fits all. Many treatment plans may require trial and error before landing on the most helpful solutions, and sometimes that does include medication.

4. Screening for perinatal mental health can only be conducted by a licensed mental health professional

Mental health screening tools may be administered by a variety of professionals including home visitors, doulas and birth workers, midwives, doctors, and more. Screening tools which have been validated include the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Screen (GAD-7). These and other screening tools may be utilized as a conversation starter about signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety. They may be administered during each trimester of pregnancy, in the hospital after birth, and at follow-up appointments throughout the first year postpartum. Regular universal screening also reduces the stigma associated with mental health during the perinatal period.

5. “Baby blues” is another term for postpartum depression

The “baby blues” is a syndrome that occurs for up to 85 percent of birthing people and consists of feelings of sadness and overwhelm in the first few days after birth. It is a response to the enormous transition from pregnancy to postpartum, sleep deprivation, and hormonal changes. It is not a clinical diagnosis and typically resolves on its own within two weeks of childbirth. Anyone who is concerned or struggling with their mental health should not wait to reach out for help.

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