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Perinatal Mood Disorder

​What is a Perinatal Mood Disorder?

Any mental health disorder which occurs during the peripartum period (pregnancy up to 12 months postpartum) and are related to a reproductive event.  This may include a depressive disorder, an anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive and related disorders, trauma disorders or other mental health issues such as the onset of bipolar disorder or psychosis.


Some people experience anxiety, depression, anger, obsessive or intrusive thoughts, or fluctuating moods which interfere with functioning during pregnancy or postpartum.  Parents may also experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, and adjustment.

Jump to How does a somatic focus help this experience?

Who suffers from Perinatal Mood Disorders - Antenatal/Postpartum Anxiety & Depression

Those who deliver often notice a period of time following delivery during which they experience strong emotions and reactions and may find themselves tearful, weeping, or crying.  This is generally considered to be a short-lived period called 'baby-blues' and can be expected about 3 days after delivery, not lasting more than a couple of days.  This brief upset does not generally interfere in functioning, relationships, or self-concept.


Some people develop symptoms either during pregnancy or following delivery which are more difficult to manage and which suggest a major depressive episode, the onset or worsening of anxiety, difficulty adjusting, intrusive thoughts, and various somatic, or body related, symptoms.  If this experiences lasts over two weeks feels moderate-severe, the person is encouraged to seek medical/mental-health assistance. 

Anyone may develop a perinatal mood disorder, also referred to as antenatal anxiety or postpartum depression, and while there are risk factors which may increase the changes of experiencing this, there are many who suffer who would report no obvious risk factors. Conversely, just because a person identifies multiple risk factors, does not mean they will inevitably suffer in their antenatal or postpartum experience.

Risk Factors:  Risk factors are situations, events, or circumstances which may contributed to an increased likelihood of developing a mental health concern. 


These are known risk factors related to the development of perinatal mood disorders: 

  • Low socio-economic status

  • Minority group status – e.g. new Canadians, LGBTQI,

  • Violence

  • Recent significant changes - e.g. moving households, job-loss, suffering recent loss

  • Lack of autonomy in making reproductive decisions

  • Unintended pregnancy

  • Adolescence

  • Unequal division of emotional/practical labour in the household

  • Occupational fatigue

  • Criticism or lack of support by peer group or elders

  • Discrimination

  • Reproductive difficulties and complications

  • Pre-existing mental health concerns

  • Poor communication by health professionals

  • Traumatic labour or delivery

  • Previous reproductive loss(es)

  • Poor physical health

  • Inadequate or unsafe housing conditions

  • History of trauma

Signs and Symptoms (a person who is experiencing distress may experience only a few or many of these):

  • Reduced interest and enjoyment

       with regard to previously enjoyed activity

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia

  • Fatigue

  • Lethargy

  • Rumination

  • Significantly low or high levels of arousal

  • Restlessness

  • Poor concentration

  • Poor decision making

  • Intrusive thoughts or images involving distressing themes, sometimes of harm coming to the baby

  • Melancholia

  • Unwavering gaze

  • Depressive stupor

  • Slack facial musculature

  • Trembling

  • Collapsed posture

  • Tearfulness

  • Shaking

  • Talkativeness

  • Shallow breathing

  • Tense or rigid posture

  • Wide eyes or hyper-vigilant gaze

Symptoms may be made worse by:

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Increase in responsibilities

  • Role transition

  • Relationships stress

  • Domestic violence

  • Partner suffering mental illness

  • Substance use

Poor perinatal mental health may negatively affect:

  • Relationships

  • Social networks

  • Involvement in the workforce

  • Interpersonal relating

  • Attachment

Barriers to service for perinatal mental health include:

  • Poor knowledge of service

  • Poor understanding of what is and what is not a ‘normal’ part of new parenthood.

  • Where or when to seek assistance

  • Attitudes and stigma

  • Fear of apprehension of children

  • Expectation of self-sufficiency and achievement

  • Desire to preserve an image of competency

  • Dismissive and neglectful response from health professionals

  • Lack of trust in health professionals

  • Time management

  • Childcare difficulties

  • Transportation

  • Cost

  • Poor access to appropriate resources, including to professionals with adequate screening tools, training, and treatment interventions.

Therapy helps.  


Making the decision to seek help is an important one; it is an empowering step toward help and healing. 


Reaching out takes courage and vulnerability. 


Perinatal mood disorders and other reproductive mental health issues are deeply personal and may leave you feeling isolated.  Sharing space, difficult emotions, and worries with a psychologist who has experience in this area may help you feel less alone and provide help and healing to you. 


 How does Sensorimotor Psychotherapy help? SP is a therapy which connects traditional psychotherapy with somatic-oriented therapy.  This therapy focuses on mind-body-spirit holism.

Many of us grew up with strong explicit or implicit messages around having children, being children, raising children, responsibility, perfection, achievement, sacrifice, benefit, roles, etc. which come into or change focus during this journey.  

Our present moment and our past moments, as well as our predictions about future moments, are wonderfully organized by our mind-body (nervous system) and our spirit. Cognition (thoughts and thinking styles), Affect (emotions/feelings), Behaviour (conscious and non-conscious), and the Body (sensations and impulses) culminate and reciprocate as core organizers of our lived experience.

Engaging in the world of fertility, labour, delivery, and loss is complex.  

Current events within our own lives, the world around us and our own history work together to inform our experiences in pregnancy, parenting, trauma, and loss. 


Sensorimotor Psychotherapy considers engaging the body and utilizing the body’s intelligence - our physiologic, behavioural, cognitive, and emotional - as imperative in exploring.

SP is primarily a therapy for trauma, but a client does not have to have experienced trauma to benefit from exploring their experience somatically as SP also engages core beliefs for exploration, processing, and change.

Over the life-span, our body-mind organizes through environmental, relational, and sensory stimuli to create messages of safety, security, and sense of self.  As we grow, we became better able to integrate these messages and regulate our responding, and identify our values, needs, principles.  During moments when we are overwhelmed, our ability to integrate what is happening is diminished which can affect the meaning-making we take from the event impacting our mood, sense of self, or sense of well-being in our whole self.​  This may include new parenthood or new-parenthood-again.

SP therapy aims to explore, experiment, and integrate the whole self for congruence.


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