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The Common Thing Pregnant Women and New Moms Deal With That No One's Talking About

Photograph by Twenty20

Expecting and new moms can't help but hear all the time about postpartum depression, but there's something that's affecting this group of women even more frequently that's not often discussed.

According to new research from the University of British Columbia, pregnant women and new moms are three to four times more likely to experience severe anxiety than they are depression.

Researchers followed 310 pregnant women between the years of 2007 and 2010. They then had more than half of them take an extensive questionnaire followed by an in-depth interview about their mental health. And the findings were surprising.

They discovered that 16 percent of pregnant women and 17 percent of new moms could be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. In contrast, only 4 percent of pregnant women and 5 percent of new moms could be diagnosed with depression. The latest data could be a game-changer in how health care practitioners are screening and treating women for mental health before and after having a baby.

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“The implication of this finding is we have a collection of mental health conditions that we’re not paying enough attention to,” says lead researcher Nichole Fairbrother. “Anxiety disorders cause a huge amount of emotional distress, they compromise quality of life, they’re associated with lots of health care cost, and they’re impairing, so they interfere with the ability to work.”

And yes, all new parents worry, but severe anxiety is beyond everyday worries and takes things to an extreme. While most first-time moms may stress out over SIDS and check to make sure their baby is breathing, a mother with anxiety may not sleep at all while watching her baby the entire time. Such feelings of uncontrollable worry may lead to isolation, which would exacerbate any "baby blues" or depression a mom may already have been experiencing. It can also impact the all-important mother-child bond you often hear—and dream—about while pregnant.

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“We don’t have a lot of data on this yet, but they very likely influence parenting and the quality of the mother-infant relationship. We know that anxious moms communicate less effectively with their infants. And if we’re only paying attention to depression, we may be providing inappropriate treatment. Women may be getting treated for the wrong thing.”

And for moms that may be experiencing postpartum anxiety and are afraid that it'll grow into postpartum psychosis, North Vancouver psychologist Michelle Haring has some reassuring news for you. She shares with the Vancouver Sun, "[A]nxiety is extremely common, and in 99.9 percent of cases it’s not part of a postpartum psychosis. It’s not something that people are going to act on and it’s treatable."

And if at any time you feel like you're dealing with anxiety or depression, contact your health care professional. Healthy moms equal healthy babies, so make sure you're taking care of you too.

Because you're kind of a big deal.

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