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Natural Awakenings Milwaukee Magazine

Understanding Perinatal Mental Health

May 01, 2023 12:00AM ● By Emily Aleksy
May is Maternal Mental Health Month, and it’s a great time to understand perinatal mental health.

Most people have heard of postpartum depression. What is lesser known is that perinatal mental health also includes a lot of other symptoms and conditions—it isn’t just sadness. While up to 80 percent of birthing people experience the baby blues (a period of two to three weeks after birth marked by mood swings and weepiness that ultimately resolve on their own), about 15 to 20 percent of birthing people experience more significant symptoms, known as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs). People can experience both pre- and post-natal depression, anxiety, panic, psychosis and more. Current research tells us that about one in 10 non-birthing partners can also experience similar symptoms and conditions; that people of color experience PMADs at even higher rates than their white counterparts; and that all of these numbers were exacerbated by the stress of the pandemic. While PMADs are sadly common, many people do not get the treatment they need.

Getting proper treatment really is key to healing from PMADs. Some people need medication, but a lot of people can be helped by non-pharmaceutical treatments like therapy (individual, couples or groups), by peer support and by other professionals like doulas and lactation consultants.

Many people struggle with deciding when to get help. While there isn’t an answer that is correct for everyone, here’s a good rule of thumb: If the birthing person feels like something is wrong or doesn’t feel like themselves, it’s time. If there are known risk factors such as previous mental health symptoms/diagnosis, or if the birthing person is carrying multiple babies or is struggling in a relationship, it may make sense to find a therapist before or during pregnancy to provide support throughout the period before and after birth. In addition, unexpected situations can occur—such as birth trauma or a NICU stay—that increase the likelihood of PMADs.

Another difficult aspect can be finding the right provider. While many providers will treat PMADs, they may not be trained, or be the best fit. There are provider lists on the PSI website ( as well as through other local organizations like Moms Mental Health Initiative (

The biggest and most important thing to know about perinatal mental health is that parents that are struggling are not alone. There is help available.

Emily Aleksy, LCSW, PMH-C, is a therapist and owner of ERA Wellness, in Whitefish Bay. ERA Wellness specializes in therapy for perinatal mental health (pregnancy or postpartum), trauma therapy, OCD, and anxiety and stress, and offers both individual and couples therapy. For more information, call 414-301-3234 or visit See ad on page 13 of print magazine.