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Perinatal anxiety is often overlooked

June 29, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
You've probably heard of postpartum depression. But there's another form of distress that's much more common - and can be harmful for moms and their babies. Leading experts say perinatal anxiety is often overlooked. Michelle Crocker loves playing with her new son, Charles. But you'd never guess Michelle is surviving a tough battle with something called perinatal anxiety.

"Perinatal anxiety is when an expecting parent -- or a new parent -- has problems with worries, panic attacks, obsessional thoughts, compulsive rituals," said Jonathan Abramowitz, Ph.D., University of North Carolina.

Dr. Jonathan Abramowitz is leading a study into the condition. He says it's common and is often misunderstood.

"Uncontrollable crying fits and trembling, shaking, just completely irrational thinking," said Crocker.

All moms and dads worry about an upcoming birth or their newborn. But experts say those normal jitters cross the line into perinatal anxiety when they impede a parent's ability to function every day.

"Some women are unable to take care of the house, unable to shop, can't clean, maybe just lays in bed worrying all day. Or if she has another child in the house, no longer is caring for her other child," said Dr. Paul Gluck, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Medication is available but that's not always advised, especially if the woman is pregnant, but there is hope.

"Cognitive behavior therapy that involves helping patients to change certain habits of thinking and behaving that kind of form a vicious cycle that keep the anxiety problem going," said Dr. Abramowitz.

Without treatment, experts say there can be serious consequences.

"Number one, the woman will just not enjoy and have the same quality of life and enjoyment of her pregnancy and, number two, if this persists into the immediate postpartum period there are actually some significant adverse effects on her baby," said Dr. Gluck.

Michelle credits support from her family and doctor for her recovery.

"It's the last thing you want to be going through when you're supposed to be happy about this wonderful future you're going to have with your child," said Crocker.

Dr. Abramowitz says it's not clear how long perinatal anxiety can last after delivery. Michelle struggled with anxiety in college. And experts say many parents with perinatal anxiety have past issues with anxiety, as well.

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