Thriving Children, Healthier Families, Stronger Community

Understanding & Addressing Maternal Mental Health

Written by: Angelica Montalvo Santiago, Clinical Psychologist
with Contributions from: Morgan Schoeneberger, Outreach Coordinator

Specialized professionals help families overcome many different forms of mental and emotional distress. JFS Delaware’s compassionate and highly-skilled team is dedicated to offering these types of unique, personalized mental health services and many members of the agency’s clinical team recently received specialized training to address one of the most common—yet underdiagnosed—mental health issues women face: Perinatal/Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders.

Perinatal/Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) encompass the distressing feelings that occur during pregnancy (perinatal) and throughout the first year after pregnancy (postpartum). Studies show 1 in 7 mothers experiences depression or anxiety during or after pregnancy; in addition, 1 in 10 fathers develops PMADs, making it a men’s issue as well.

There is no single cause or predisposition for a PMAD and many new parents experiencing postpartum disorders have never had a mental health diagnosis before. It can affect first-time parents or those with more than one child, regardless of age, race, income, culture, or education.

PMADs can be challenging to identify for various reasons, including that the symptoms—feeling tired or overwhelmed and having trouble adjusting to life with baby—are assumed to just be part of life as a new parent rather than the very real mental health diagnoses they can represent. Many parents feel ashamed to talk about these difficult experiences and hesitate to seek help, especially if this is their first time navigating a mental health concern.

This is why specialized care is so important. Working with professionals trained to address maternal mental health can help patients identify the signs and symptoms of PMADs sooner, connect with support and resources, and feel heard, seen, and understood.

The first step in addressing this need is to increase awareness of PMADs and their signs and symptoms. Based on definitions from Postpartum Support International, here are some brief descriptions of the 5 types of PMADs:


Often dismissed as “baby blues,” this treatable mood disorder may involve symptoms of sadness, hopelessness, and sudden mood changes, as well as changes in eating and sleep habits. You may feel depressed, anxious, and unable to bond with your baby. Postpartum Depression may develop before birth or up to a year after.


Many new parents worry about the health and well-being of their baby. With PPA, the anxiety is so overwhelming that it impedes your daily functioning, including possible physical symptoms such as insomnia or a racing heart. If your anxiety lasts all day or seems severe, ask your doctor about being screened for Postpartum Anxiety.


This condition develops from a traumatic event during or after birth, such as prolonged labor and delivery, emergency c-section, vacuum or forceps delivery, or a NICU stay. Like all postpartum disorders, this can interfere with mother-infant bonding. Postpartum PTSD is underdiagnosed, but experts believe it may affect up to 9% of new mothers.


If a woman experiences a sudden and severe onset of postpartum depression symptoms, she may have Postpartum Psychosis. Symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, mood swings, paranoia, and thoughts of harming herself or baby. This is considered a life-threatening situation—if you believe you or a loved one is suffering from Postpartum Psychosis, seek immediate medical attention.


Postpartum OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts and behaviors in response to a perceived danger toward their baby. Although any new mother can develop Postpartum OCD, it is more common among women who had an OCD diagnosis before giving birth.


Treatment options for PMADs may include counseling, safe use of medication, support from others, exercise and yoga, healthy diet, and adequate sleep, among others. Studies have shown that 80% of patients noticed a significant mood improvement during and after treatment.

Having trained in clinics where physicians, nurses, pediatricians, Ob-Gyns, breastfeeding specialists, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists all worked together to make sure moms, dads, babies, and families are treated with the services they need and deserve, I have seen firsthand the positive ripple effect of specialized, integrated care…

It results in happy tears, thriving children, healthier families and stronger communities.


The Sonia Schorr Sloan Maternal Mental Health Program at JFS Delaware is accepting clients!
New and expecting mothers can call for more information about specialized screenings and treatment at 302-478-9411.