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Dr Pamela Tan is an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist practising at Thomson Medical Center in Singapore. Prior to leaving for private practice, Dr Tan was a female Consultant in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital.

She obtained her undergraduate medical degree at the National University of Singapore and her post-graduate MRCOG in London at the Royal College of O&G. She is a specialist accredited with the Specialist Accreditation Board (Ministry of Health) and is a Fellow of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore (FAMS). She is an accredited member of the Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology of Singapore (SCCPS) with a subspecialty interest in colposcopy (for pre-cancer of the cervix and vagina) and vulval disease.

In further pursuing this interest, she was a fellow for pre-invasive disease at the colposcopy and vulval unit at the Whittington Hospital in the United Kingdom. She is a visiting consultant at KK Hospital for colposcopy and is still involved in research on computer imaging analytics for screening cervical cancer in low resource settings in a joint collaboration with the National University of Singapore.

While in the United Kingdom, she was also a fellow at the Assisted Conception Unit in Guys Hospital to learn the latest in reproductive techniques and approaches to infertility. She is accredited to perform advanced Level 3 minimally invasive keyhole surgery such as laparoscopic hysterectomy, myomectomy and cystectomy (womb, fibroids and cysts removal).

Her philosophy to doctoring is one that is focused on building relationships with her patients. She strives to deliver patient care that is warm, caring, professional and well advised. She is a believer of pro natural birthing and providing an optimal birthing experience as desired by her patients.

Dr Pamela Tan is an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist practising at Thomson Medical Center in Singapore. Prior to leaving for private practice, Dr Tan was a female Consultant in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital.

She obtained her undergraduate medical degree at the National University of Singapore and her post-graduate MRCOG in London at the Royal College of O&G. She is a specialist accredited with the Specialist Accreditation Board (Ministry of Health) and is a Fellow of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore (FAMS). She is an accredited member of the Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology of Singapore (SCCPS) with a subspecialty interest in colposcopy (for pre-cancer of the cervix and vagina) and vulval disease.

In further pursuing this interest, she was a fellow for pre-invasive disease at the colposcopy and vulval unit at the Whittington Hospital in the United Kingdom. She is a visiting consultant at KK Hospital for colposcopy and is still involved in research on computer imaging analytics for screening cervical cancer in low resource settings in a joint collaboration with the National University of Singapore.

While in the United Kingdom, she was also a fellow at the Assisted Conception Unit in Guys Hospital to learn the latest in reproductive techniques and approaches to infertility. She is accredited to perform advanced Level 3 minimally invasive keyhole surgery such as laparoscopic hysterectomy, myomectomy and cystectomy (womb, fibroids and cysts removal).

Her philosophy to doctoring is one that is focused on building relationships with her patients. She strives to deliver patient care that is warm, caring, professional and well advised. She is a believer of pro natural birthing and providing an optimal birthing experience as desired by her patients.

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Managing Menopause: A Quick Guide on What To Expect When You’re Expecting

How much do you know about menopause or its symptoms? This is a question women should concern themselves with because it’s a stage they’re bound to enter sooner or later. It’s a reality that must be lived, even though it’s not always wrapped in a bow.

As some women have shared, the road to menopause can be a struggle. But, you can choose not to turn it into a dreadful experience. The changes that your body is expected to go through is manageable, but to gain the upper hand, the key is to understand these transformations and how it can be dealt with.


The process that leads to menopause doesn’t happen overnight, rather it involves gradual changes. So, before you reach that stage, your body goes through a transitional phase called the perimenopausal period.

This prelude takes an average of three years and even stretches up to a decade in some women. It may kick in your late 30s and 40s as a result of declining ovarian function causing your estrogen levels to fluctuate. 

This hormonal see-saw can last for years and may result in a more symptomatic period for women. During this time you may start to notice irregularities in your menstrual cycle, but it can also cause other symptoms such as: 

A guide to Perimenopausal Symptoms - Dr Pamela Tan

Now you’re thinking, “Hey, this sounds like menopause!” 

This is usually where the misconception is. 

Most people think that these unpleasant symptoms are that of menopause, when in fact, these are hallmarks of perimenopause. However, these can also be referred to as symptoms of menopause because they indicate what is coming imminently. 

Perimenopause is the period where the “real action” happens. Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict in advance for how long the perimenopausal stage would last. This experience can vary for each woman, with some not even displaying any symptoms of being perimenopausal at all. However, one can get an idea as to when they might get into menopause based on their family history.

When exactly is Menopause?

Officially reaching menopause means that it has been a full year that you have not menstruated. To put it simply, it’s just that one day to mark the anniversary of your last period. 

In Western societies, the average age of menopause is 51, but in Singapore, it’s 49. However, menopause has a wide starting range, but it is usually expected within the ages of 42-58 – sometimes earlier.

If there’s no test to determine for how long perimenopause will run its course, for menopause, you can get a ballpark figure on when it may happen based on how old your mother and grandmother reached theirs. 

Reproductively, this is a major milestone because it marks the end of your fertility. Although for most women, the journey leading to it is riddled with discomfort, menopause is not a health problem, rather a natural phase in your life

Premature Menopause

When your menses have officially ceased for 12 consecutive months, but this happens before you reach 40, this is known as premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency

This can run in families, but there are external influences that affect your ovaries such as, medical treatments (e.g. chemotherapy, radiotherapy, ovarian surgery, hysterectomy) and lifestyle choices (e.g. smoking).

It can be hard for women to come to terms with a diagnosis of premature menopause, especially if they still desire to have a baby in the future. Besides infertility, this condition also increases a woman’s risk for osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes

So, if your period becomes infrequent, or has stopped before you reach 40, you must schedule a visit to your OB-GYN. You may be offered blood tests to measure hormone levels that will help diagnose premature menopause. 

Managing Menopause Symptoms

Fortunately, it’s not like you don’t have a choice over those uncomfortable symptoms. There are various treatments such as lifestyle changes, non-prescribed therapies, and prescribed interventions to help allay some effects.

1. Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle Changes - Dr Pamela Tan

You can minimise the blow of these symptoms with some lifestyle tweaks. For instance, eating a healthy diet should be established or improved to accommodate your metabolism which is now running at a snail’s pace. Together with regular exercise, this can help you maintain a healthy weight and improve sleep. You may also have to cut back on caffeine and alcohol to reduce night sweats and hot flashes. 

2. Non-Prescribed Therapies

Non Prescribe Therapy - Dr Pamela Tan

Herbal Medicines

Mother nature’s treatments can also help you manage your symptoms. Black cohosh and evening primrose oil have received quite a bit of scientific attention when research revealed that it can reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes. You might have even heard of other popular names thrown out there such as Dong Quai, Red Clover, Ginseng, or Kava – and some women swear by them. However, you must take this with a grain of salt because herbal remedies have no established safety standards. It may also run the risk of interacting with any prescribed medications. Therefore, consult your doctor first before you consider this type of treatment. 

Alternative Therapy

Acupressure, acupuncture, and aromatherapy massage are some non-traditional treatments that can also be effective for some women. These have been tagged to improve symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and even anxiety. Again, this should be considered with advice from your doctor. 

Complementary Therapy 

Hypnosis, biofeedback and relaxation training are therapies that can be done alongside prescribed interventions to boost their results. 

Bioidentical Hormones

These are man-made hormones that are designed to be molecular copies of our natural hormones. However, concerns have been raised especially among custom-blended hormones for menopause because they tend to have unpredictable ingredient mixtures. This can pose reproductive risks which outweigh the relief of early menopause symptoms. 

3. Prescribed Interventions

Prescribed Interventions - Dr Pamela Tan

Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT)

HRT is a commonly prescribed treatment to relieve menopausal symptoms. It means being treated with the female hormones, estrogen and progestin since numbers decline as you approach menopause. 

HRTs offer the following benefits:

  • It can relieve hot flashes
  • Improve mood associated with menopause
  • It can improve sexual desire
  • Reduces vaginal dryness
  • Helps keep the bones strong, preventing osteoporosis

To know the different HRTs available for you, please check out the video below. 

However, this treatment is not for everyone, especially if you are pregnant, diagnosed with certain cancers, experiencing vaginal bleeding, have blood clots, have had a heart attack or stroke, or suffering from liver disease. 

Non-Hormonal Medications 

Medications can be prescribed to treat symptoms. Gabapentin and clonidine have shown to improve hot flashes. Some drugs can also be given to manage anxiety or depressive symptoms. 

Psychological Treatments

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that helps patients to modify dysfunctional thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. It can help with mood changes caused by hormonal fluctuations, and it may also help relieve associated symptoms like anxiety, depression, and even insomnia.


Stages of Menopause- Dr Pamela Tan

The post-menopause period starts the day after menopause – or pretty much the rest of your life. The transformation your reproductive system went through over the years can also have an effect during the post-menopausal period. For this, you must learn to adapt health-seeking behaviours that can help reduce the effects of menopause as you go into the next phase.

For the next couple of years, your body is exposed to the following changes and health risks: 

1. Bone changes

After the age of 35, it’s normal for men and women to experience a small amount of bone loss. But after menopause, you lose it at a rapid rate due to decreased estrogen levels. With excess bone loss, you increase your risk of osteoporosis which makes you vulnerable to fractures, particularly around the hips, spine, or wrist.

To keep bones strong in midlife, make sure that your fitness routine includes weight-bearing exercises. Do it regularly to slow down bone loss. Additionally, your diet must include foods high in calcium (dark leafy greens, dairy, and canned fish) and vitamin D (milk, orange juice, supplements, or 15 minutes of Singapore sunshine). You must also cut off any habit that compromises bone health, such as smoking. 

You may not notice your bones weakening just yet since it takes years before it shows any symptoms. A fracture is the first sign of the disease, which is why women above 65 are advised to get a bone mineral density test. 

2. Urinary incontinence

Almost half of post-menopausal women complain of urinary incontinence. Your low estrogen levels weaken the urethra, making you unable to control urine flow. You may have noticed this when you laugh, sneeze, cough, which is a common type called stress incontinence. To prevent this, you may empty your bladder as often as possible, control your weight, stay fit, or you can start doing regular Kegel’s exercise to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. 

3. Sexual side effects

It is normal for changes to your sex life after menopause. Some say that they enjoy it more since they no longer have to worry about getting pregnant. However, others may no longer enjoy it as much. 

Decreased hormone levels can put a damper on your sex drive. It can even make sex less pleasurable as vaginal tissues become thinner and drier. A lot of women suffer in silence when they don’t need to because there are available treatments. If this is troubling you, don’t hesitate to seek professional advice from your gynaecologist. 

4. Heart attacks

The menopausal transition also breeds cardiovascular risk factors. This is even considered the biggest danger during the post-menopausal stage as rates of heart attacks spike roughly a decade in. 

Estrogen helps keep blood vessels flexible so they can easily contract and expand to accommodate blood flow. But, once it diminishes, this ability is lost giving way to problems like high blood pressure. This can thicken the walls of your artery which compromises blood flow making you vulnerable to heart attacks.

To protect yourself, you need to commit to a healthy lifestyle. There must be discipline in following diet modifications and regular exercise. If you have prescribed maintenance medications for high blood pressure, or any lifestyle disease, do take them regularly. 

5. Stroke

Premenopausal women are protected by the risk of cerebrovascular diseases such as stroke. As mentioned earlier, estrogen provides beneficial effects to blood vessels as it gives them more flexibility to expand to promote blood flow. However, for every decade after 55, the risk of stroke roughly doubles in women. The risk is further heightened in women with premature menopause. The low estrogen levels at this point triggers cholesterol build-up on artery walls including those that are in your brain. It results in this “brain attack” which is either caused by a blockage (ischaemic stroke) or rupture (Haemorrhagic stroke).

To prevent stroke, Singapore’s Health Promotion Board suggests the following: 

  • Eat healthily and in moderation
  • Keep blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose under control
  • Exercise and maintain a healthy weight
  • Go for regular health screening and follow up
  • Avoid smoking

6. Gynaecological cancers

Cancers affecting your reproductive health are present even before menopause. However, you must still check for any warning signs such as bleeding after menopause. The risk increases as you age and in women who are undergoing hormone therapy to treat menopausal symptoms.

To maintain good gynaecological health during this reproductive milestone, you must seek regular cancer screening. You can read more about cancer screening in Singapore in our blog, here. If you have any bleeding after your menopause, you must seek attention immediately to rule out cancers of the womb and cervix. 

Some may look at menopause with a tinge of dread due to some horror stories shared by women who have gone through it or as played out in movies. While there’s truth to it, your journey doesn’t have to be that way. Now that you’re aware of what you could be going through in the coming years, you can prepare for it. With the right help, you can float your way through perimenopause with the least amount of issues, and even forge towards the post-menopausal period in good health.

We’re we able to tackle your concerns about menopause? For your questions and other concerns, you may book a consultation with Dr Pamela Tan today. 

5 Neurological Disorders in Pregnancy

We’re familiar with the threat of common diseases like gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia in pregnancy. In addition to that, the nervous system can also be stricken with diseases that can turn into a health crisis in this delicate period of pregnancy and childbirth. These neurological disorders carry several symptoms that range from minor discomforts to medical emergencies. Therefore, being familiar with what these are will allow you to be more aware in identifying red flags. 

1. Pregnancy Headache

The surge of hormones and the increase in blood volume often result in frequent headaches in expectant moms. It’s a common discomfort during the first and third trimesters, which are usually challenging stages during pregnancy. 

Aggravating factors include: 

  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Sinus congestion or nasal stuffiness
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH)
  • Low blood sugar levels
  • Poor nutrition

These trigger two of the most common types of headaches which are, tension headaches and migraines

Tension Headache

Due to the physical toll that pregnancy has on the body, tension headaches are likely to occur. This is why it’s also referred to as stress headaches

These are felt as mild to moderate pressing pain on both sides of the head, similar to having a tight band wrapped around it. This sensation is usually accompanied by a sore neck and shoulder. It resolves within a few minutes to a few hours, and in rare cases, it can last for several days. 


Migraines, on the other hand, aren’t your typical headaches. It’s characterised by severe, throbbing pain that comes with neurological symptoms like blurred vision, numbness, flashes of light or tingling on the face, arms, or leg. 

Women with regular migraine headaches may notice that they experience fewer episodes during pregnancy. Some may encounter it for the first time after getting pregnant, while others experience the same frequency. However, some may notice it getting worse especially during the first trimester. 

These episodes should not be taken lightly because expectant women who suffer from migraines have a greater risk of hypertensive diseases associated with pregnancy. 


A person can experience both tension headache and migraine, and their symptoms may overlap. Therefore, pregnant women should be quick to have a doctor check unexplainable and persistent headaches. Even more so if this is accompanied by symptoms like sudden dramatic weight gain or puffiness in the face or hands. 

A person can experience both tension headache and migraine, and their symptoms may overlap. Therefore, pregnant women should be quick to have a doctor check unexplainable and persistent headaches. Click To Tweet

Tests and scans may be needed to determine the cause behind these headaches. Blood pressure levels will be checked routinely. The OB-GYN may also order blood tests, blood sugar tests, a vision test or a scan of the head and neck if serious. 

Ways to cope with pregnancy headaches

Besides medical interventions, there are non-pharmacologic measures to treat headaches during pregnancy. You may try any of the following:

  • Stay hydrated.
  • Eat well-balanced meals.
  • Relieve tension headaches by applying a cold compress or ice pack at the base of your neck. 
  • Maintain blood sugar levels by eating small, frequent meals. 
  • Rest in a dark room and practice deep breathing exercises.
  • Take a warm bath or shower.
  • Get a neck or shoulder massage.
  • Relax and get plenty of rest.
  • Practice good posture.
  • Put your feet in a tub of warm water.

Medical treatments for pregnancy headaches vary depending on the different factors that surround it. While we often reach for over-the-counter pain medications to counter any bouts of headache, in this case, a doctor’s advice is necessary to ensure that any measures taken don’t compromise a pregnancy or the health of the baby. Common painkillers found in pharmacies that fall under the NSAID group (including the patches) are contraindicated while some paracetamol (panadol) can be taken in safe doses.

2. Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that involves recurrent seizures. In every 1000 pregnancies, between 2-5 infants are born to mothers who have it. However, most of these women remain free of seizures during pregnancy and even move on to have uncomplicated pregnancies and healthy babies. 


How pregnancy affects epilepsy

It’s difficult to predict how pregnancy affects epilepsy. However, some may experience frequent seizures while they’re pregnant. The reason for it is that the medications used to treat epilepsy may work differently during pregnancy, or it may not be absorbed well. It might be the case that expectant women are no longer taking it regularly or have stopped taking it entirely. Furthermore, the physical and emotional stress that comes with pregnancy are also considered as potent triggers. 

How epilepsy affects pregnancy

On the other hand, epilepsy poses certain risks to pregnancy. Besides general complications that come with the condition, the medications used to treat it can also have adverse effects on the mother, the unborn baby, and the pregnancy. 

Since women are at a more delicate state while pregnant, having a seizure disorder heightens the risk for injuries and complications. Maternal risks include trauma from falls, bumps, or accidentally biting the tongue. Meanwhile, the type of medications may have serious side effects to the baby, such as abnormalities to the heart, slightly smaller size, birth defects (e.g. cleft lip or cleft palate), or stillbirths. In addition, the risks to the pregnancy itself may result in the premature separation of the placenta from the uterus, premature labour, and miscarriages. 

So what can be done to ensure a safe pregnancy even in the presence of a seizure disorder? 

Pregnant women with epilepsy need close monitoring of the disease and fetal health, which means that there will be more frequent prenatal visits needed.  Click To Tweet

Pregnant women with epilepsy need close monitoring of the disease and fetal health, which means that there will be more frequent prenatal visits needed.  

Most women will be prescribed with anticonvulsant medications. Proper monitoring also follows to ensure that seizures are controlled and side effects are reduced. The goal of treatment is to use as few medications as possible at the lowest dose necessary to control these seizures

There is also a particular need to increase folic acid dosage in pregnant women with epilepsy. This prenatal vitamin is routinely prescribed to all pregnant women to reduce the risk of babies having defects to the spine, heart, and limbs. However, there is a need to prescribe a higher dose because epilepsy medications can interfere with folic acid absorption increasing the risk of the baby being born with spinal abnormalities. Conversely, special monitoring is needed to check if folic acid hasn’t lowered the blood levels of these seizure medications. Otherwise, it could increase the risk of seizures

While epilepsy medications come with risks, they should not be discontinued or changed without consulting a healthcare professional. Poorly controlled epilepsy may result in a very rare but serious complication called sudden unexplained death with epilepsy (SUDEP), which is highly likely to occur during the time of delivery and the postpartum period. 


3. Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system, which is the brain and spinal cord. In this disabling disease, the body mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath, which is an outer coating that protects the nerve cells. When it gets damaged, the flow of information between your brain and the rest of the body gets disrupted. This leads to common neurological symptoms such as loss of coordination, muscle weakness, and trouble with sensation. 

Multiple sclerosis and pregnancy

Having MS doesn’t seem to affect getting pregnant, and neither does pregnancy speed up the course or worsen the effect of MS. In fact, the nine months of pregnancy are generally associated with fewer relapses, especially during the third trimester. Those with unrecognized MS prior to getting pregnant are more likely to start experiencing symptoms during pregnancy. However, within 3-6 months after delivery, the symptoms usually tend to flare up again. 

Challenges MS pose on pregnancy

Due to debilitating symptoms, it may be physically challenging for MS patients to carry a pregnancy. It increases the likelihood of injuries due to muscle weakness and coordination problems. Meanwhile, fatigue may also be felt more profoundly. 

With pelvic sensation compromised, a woman may not feel pain with contractions. While this may sound like a dream come true, the absence of any sensation can be hard for a woman to tell when labor starts and even its progression. Furthermore, delivery becomes difficult as the muscles and nerves needed for pushing are also affected. It is for this reason that these patients usually undergo a C-section, a vacuum delivery, or a forceps delivery

Currently, there is no available treatment for MS, but there are medications that can help control the symptoms. Since relapse is unlikely during pregnancy, there is usually no need for any medications. However, drug therapies may have to be resumed after pregnancy which means that breastfeeding may not be advised; but these can be arranged based on how the disease progresses. 

One can always consult a doctor or OB for any concerns – whether if it’s about getting pregnant, any advise on pregnancy, or close monitoring. Just like other neurological disorders, the presence of MS will require more frequent prenatal visits. 

You can read about a Singaporean mum’s struggle with MS, here

4. Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia gravis (MG) is another autoimmune disorder that causes weakness to the skeletal muscles of the face and extremities. It worsens after periods of activity, and improves after periods of rest. It usually affects women who are in their 20s and 30s, or during the childbearing years. 

MG tends to worsen during the first trimester and postpartum period. One study showed that 30% of patients do not experience any change in their MG status, 29% reported improvement, and 41% showed worsening of their MG symptoms during pregnancy. However, the course of the disease varies and pregnant women face the risk of it getting worse, respiratory failure, adverse drug reactions, a myasthenic crisis, and even death. 


Labour and delivery for women with MG

Pregnancy does not appear to worsen the long-term effects of MG on women. Vaginal delivery is safe, and it should be encouraged. A c-section is carried out only when there is a need to because surgery is associated with worsening of MG, and it might even result in a myasthenic crisis. 

Since the uterine muscles are composed of smooth muscles, its ability to contract is not compromised with MG. Therefore, the first stage of labour is not affected. But as the woman progresses to the second stage of labour, she will need the striated muscles to work. This can be exhausting and it often requires the need for forceps or vacuum extraction.

Another complication of labour with a higher incidence in mothers with MG is premature rupture of membranes holding the amniotic fluid, although the reason for it is unclear. 

Effects of MG on the baby

Infants who are born to women with MG are thought to develop neonatal MG through the passage of MG antibodies between mother and fetus. The symptoms are usually mild to moderate, which is observed through poor sucking and muscle tone. Generally, this is temporary, and the baby’s symptoms disappear within two to three months after birth. 

Treatment of MG during pregnancy

Treatment must be individualised based on the severity of MG as well as the effectiveness of various treatment options and their possible harmful effects on pregnancy. Optimal management during this delicate period calls for a multidisciplinary team approach comprising an obstetrician, neonatologist/pediatrician, and neurologist. 

For those planning to get pregnant, but are also struggling with MG, doctors would often advise to delay pregnancy for at least 2 years following diagnosis. The severity of symptoms and risk of maternal death is highest within this period. Most myasthenic women can have an uneventful pregnancy with good outcome as long as there is careful planning and close monitoring.

5. Peripheral Neurological Disorder

The disorders mentioned above are issues that affect the central nervous system. But there are also conditions that target the nerves outside the brain and and spinal cord, and these are called peripheral neurologic disorders. 

There are over 100 types of these neuropathies, but the ones common to pregnancy are carpal tunnel syndrome and Bell’s palsy. These conditions are usually due to compression during pregnancy and childbirth. 

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome affects 4% of the general population, but it is more common during pregnancy where it is 31%-62% of pregnant women. Click To Tweet

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome affects 4% of the general population, but it is more common during pregnancy where it is 31%-62% of pregnant women. Experts could not pinpoint the root cause behind it, but they suspect that it could be hormone-related swelling. Increased fluid and relaxation of the ligaments puts pressure on the nerve on the wrist, called the median nerve, as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist. 


There are certain factors that increase a woman’s risk of developing CTS during pregnancy. Aggravating factors include obesity, gestational diabetes, pregnancy-related hypertension, and having previous pregnancies.

Read: Gestational Diabetes: Why It Is No Sweet Talk 

Most doctors recommend treating CTS conservatively during pregnancy because patients experience relief weeks or months after giving birth.

Treatments that can safely be applied during pregnancy include the use of splints to keep the wrist in a neutral position. This also controls the motion to the wrist, like when one types on the keyboard. Proper rest, especially when the affected hand feels painful or fatigued. Elevating the wrists and applying a cold compress can help relieve the symptoms. On top of that, doctors may also prescribe physical therapy and pain relievers


Bell’s Palsy


Bell’s palsy is a temporary weakness of facial nerve. It can strike at any age and it occurs without warning. It’s more common during pregnancy, with most cases occurring during the third trimester and postpartum period. The symptoms are often confused with that of a stroke, which is why it must be evaluated immediately. 

Bell’s palsy is a temporary weakness of facial nerve. It can strike at any age and it occurs without warning. It’s more common during pregnancy, with most cases occurring during the third trimester and postpartum period. Click To Tweet

There are several theories as to why pregnant women are more likely to experience Bell’s palsy than non-pregnant women. Below are the following reasons: 

  • Increased total body water which causes swelling and/or compression of the facial nerve
  • Increased blood clotting factors
  • Weakened immune system
  • Elevated levels of the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone

In general, those who experience Bell’s palsy will experience a full recovery within 6 months. Unfortunately for Bell’s palsy during pregnancy, the prognosis for complete recovery isn’t as great as the general population, 52% vs. 80%, respectively. It should be noted that the poorer outcomes reported are likely related to the past reluctance of physicians to prescribe steroids and antivirals in treatment. Today, management of Bell’s palsy in pregnancy should mirror that of nonpregnant individuals and include steroids combined with antivirals, with the exception of first trimester cases. Steroids help to reduce swelling and compression of the nerve and anti virals may aid in Bell’s palsy secondary to a viral infection. 

Neurologic disorders may come with symptoms that can make pregnancy more challenging, even to a point of being risky. However, it doesn’t mean that having these conditions can rob a woman of bearing a child.  With preparation, precaution, and close monitoring, it’s possible to have a safe pregnancy. 

Whether you are still planning for a baby or drafting your birth plan, it’s important that you have the right professional help to guide you along. In Singapore, Dr. Pamela Tan provides warm, caring, and personalised obstetric and gynaecological services for every woman’s unique concerns.  Make an appointment today!

What Can Pregnant Women Do Amidst the Looming Threat of COVID-19?

Facing a threat that is foreign to all of us can leave us paralysed with fear. Not fully knowing what we’re up against can breed panic, even more so in women who are about to bring a life into the world. But panic can only take us right into the trap of irrational decision-making, especially in a time where COVID-19’s prevalence has stricken us all. 

So, why not take what is already known and use that knowledge to ensure that you avoid this infection and have a healthy pregnancy. 

COVID-19: What we know so far

Coronavirus is an umbrella term that refers to a large family of viruses that can trigger illnesses that range from the common cold to severe diseases like the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV)

The outbreak which started in December of 2019 was caused by a strain that hasn’t been identified in humans, hence the name 2019 novel coronavirus. In February 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially named it SARS-CoV-2. This virus is the reason behind COVID-19 – the disease that is currently placing the world on hold as everyone is gripped with fear of an unseen enemy. 

Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and humans. SARS-CoV was passed on from civet cats, while MERS-CoV was transmitted from dromedary camels. However, for COVID-19, the definite cause has yet to be identified.

For person to person transmission, COVID-19 virus can be transmitted through contact with certain bodily fluids, such as droplets in a cough. It can also be transmitted by touching something an infected person has touched or sneezed on, and then bringing your hand to your mouth, nose, or eyes.

What’s so sinister about this illness is that it can be spread even before it shows any symptoms. As one study revealed, the disease can have an average incubation period (the time elapsed between the exposure and when the first symptoms become evident) of 5 days. Seeing how community transmission is fast-moving and widespread, now making it a pandemic, pregnant women should engage in strong precautionary measures, especially in public places. 

Do pregnant women have a bigger risk of acquiring a COVID-19 infection? 

Fortunately, based on the evidence so far, pregnant women don’t appear to have a higher susceptibility to a COVID-19 infection compared to the general population. However, pregnancy in a minority of patients can affect how the immune system responds to severe viral infections. At the moment, there is no evidence that coronavirus causes a viral infection worse in pregnant women, but the amount of evidence available is still quite limited. Hence, to be cautious, pregnant women should be given special consideration especially those with coexistent medical illnesses which make them immunocompromised and vulnerable to infection. 

What are the symptoms?

In the beginning, the virus will create flu-like symptoms like cough, lethargy and fever. But as soon as the virus starts reproducing in your lung cells, it gradually destroys your lung tissue, affecting your ability to inhale oxygen. That is why one of the early symptoms is that people tend to experience shortness of breath which would render the need for hospital care.

In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. This is commonly observed among those who are immunosuppressed or those with long-term conditions such as diabetes – which is also present in some pregnant women. Therefore, expectant moms who are also dealing with other health conditions should heighten their caution. 

Read: Gestational Diabetes Mellitus: Why It Is No Sweet Talk

What happens if a pregnant woman gets infected?

Comparisons have been drawn between COVID-19 and influenza. Both cause respiratory diseases that comprise a wide range of illnesses, from asymptomatic to severe, with rare cases resulting in death. The large majority of pregnant women with COVID will experience only mild or moderate flu-like symptoms. This is reinforced by the Chair of the Society of Infectious Diseases of China Medical Association who shared that in Shanghai, pregnant patients had mild disease and there were no severe cases requiring intubation. 

The large majority of pregnant women with COVID will experience only mild or moderate flu-like symptoms. Click To Tweet

While COVID-19 may initially appear like the seasonal flu, here are important comparisons that should be noted so that you get prompt medical treatment.

Runny nose/ cold is NOT typically a symptom of COVID-19. In addition to fever, dry cough, muscle aches, headaches and diarrhea, a significant number of COVID 19 patients report a loss of smell and/or taste as their symptom. 

Flu vs Covid

As this is a new virus, we are just starting to be familiar with its outcomes. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can result in adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as miscarriage. However, looking at cases of infections from other related coronaviruses (SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV), these diseases have resulted in miscarriages and stillbirths. 

A high-grade fever (more than 38 degrees celsius) during the first trimester of pregnancy is also a cause for concern among expectant women. It increases the risk of certain birth defects, such as neural tube defects affecting the brain and the spine, heart or facial abnormalities (e.g. cleft lip or cleft palate) in the fetus. 

In COVID-19, fever is among the triad of symptoms, along with cough and shortness of breath. So, whether it’s a serious strain of the coronavirus or the common flu, the same risk is present if we focus on the fact that if a pregnant woman’s temperature goes through the roof, it can lead to serious complications to the unborn baby. Conversely, up to this point, there is also no concrete information on the real effect of the virus on women in early pregnancy. 

Can infected pregnant women pass on the COVID-19 virus to her baby? 

Passing on a disease-causing agent, such as the COVID-19 virus, from a mother to her offspring while pregnant or during birth is called vertical transmission. Two cases of possible vertical transmission have been reported. In both cases, it remains unclear whether transmission was prior to or soon after birth. Another recent report from China of four women with coronavirus infection when they gave birth found no evidence of the infection in their newborn babies. After testing amniotic fluid, cord blood, and neonatal throat swab, there was no evidence of intrauterine fetal infection. Hence, it is also presumed that it’s unlikely for the COVID-19 virus to cause congenital issues affecting baby’s development. 

Expert opinion is that the baby is unlikely to be exposed to the virus during pregnancy.

Some babies born to women with symptoms of coronavirus in China have been born prematurely. It is unclear whether coronavirus caused early labour, or whether it was recommended that the baby was born early in order to preserve the mother’s health.

Additionally, the virus was not detected in samples of breastmilk, which means that there is no advice against breastfeeding for infected moms. In the United Kingdom, the current guidance is that there is no need for patients to be separated from their newborns. However, it’s important that precautionary measures are applied while doing so. Moms who are carriers of the virus should wear a mask while feeding, wash her hands before and after it, and disinfect contaminated surfaces. But if she’s too ill, she can express her milk for the baby using the necessary precautions. In hospitals, proper isolation and strict protocol should help in making sure that the baby is protected from acquiring a COVID-19 infection. In China, babies were kept strictly away from their infected mothers for 14 days to reduce the chance of transmission. There have been reports of very early neonatal infections where babies were severely ill so it may well be prudent to isolate until we have more data.  

How can pregnant women protect themselves against a COVID-19 infection?

Since the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted by contact and droplets, public health measures were provided by the World Health Organization. These are applicable to all, and pregnant people can use it to protect themselves and prevent the spread of infection.

Protective measures against covid-19

What can I do about pre-natal check-ups? 

Part of the list of precautions that the government and healthcare workers have been constantly repeating to flatten the curve of community-acquired infection is to avoid crowded places and to practise social distancing. But what if you can’t avoid hospitals as COVID-19 spreads?

Pre-natal check-ups are vital in ensuring a safe and healthy pregnancy. There is a stronger need for visits to the doctor especially for those with delicate pregnancies, therefore these appointments can’t be postponed indefinitely. 

In Singapore, the pre-natal check-ups will continue as usual. However, if you exhibit any fever and flu symptoms, some hospitals will not allow entry. Instead, you will be advised to see your local general practitioner (GP) for medications, and your appointments will be deferred until you are well. 

Take note of the following reminders for this type of GP check-up:

  • You are advised to wear a mask.
  • You should maintain social distance. 
  • You will be assessed if you have high-risk factors of being positive for COVID-19. 
  • If you are considered low risk, you will be given medications for symptoms and told to isolate at home for five days but to return if worsening or persistent symptoms. It will be at the GP s discretion to determine if you warrant a referral to NCID for a swab test. 
  • In general, patients who have clinical pneumonia or prolonged flu symptoms or serving a stay-home notice from countries with heightened vigilance and any sort of acute respiratory symptoms are likely to be referred. 
  • If you are high risk, eg on home quarantine orders or have any contact with anyone who is positive for COVID-19, you should call for an ambulance to bring you to NCID directly if you have symptoms instead of going to a GP. 
  • Pregnant patients in NCID will be co-managed by KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, if needed.

In cases of any pregnancy-related emergency or if you are in labour, co-existing with your symptoms, then you will be directed to the cordoned off triage area in your obstetric hospitals. Please telephone your specialist beforehand to highlight your situation so that preparations can be made prior to your arrival. If necessary, you will be admitted to a negative pressure labour wardroom for delivery. This is to protect you from coming into contact with other patients and reduce cross contamination room to room. 

What will delivery be like for a woman who is positive for COVID-19?

Under the circumstances, the mode of delivery will be discussed with the mother. Doctors will not outright advise a Caesarean section for suspected COVID-19 patients. However, if the mother’s respiratory condition demands urgent delivery, a C-section would be an appropriate course of action. In China, most patients underwent a Caesarean section for delivery but it is still unknown if vaginal delivery increases infection. There was a report following up 9 pregnant patients of which 2 underwent normal vaginal delivery. The three babies (including 1 set of twins) did well post delivery and tested negative for infection. 

Under the circumstances, the mode of delivery will be discussed with the mother. Doctors will not outright advise a Caesarean section for suspected COVID-19 patients. However, if the mother’s respiratory condition demands urgent… Click To Tweet

Epidural anaesthesia is advised for pain relief during labour instead of Entonox gas because the latter poses a higher risk of aerosolisation increasing the risk of spreading the virus. To this effect, spinal anaesthesia rather than general anaesthesia is advised during a Caesarean section also to curb any risk of spreading infection. 

Will the newborn be separated from an infected mother? 

Health authorities advise separate isolation of the infected mother and her newborn for 14 days. However, routine precautionary separation of mother and a healthy baby shouldn’t be taken lightly considering the potential detrimental effects on feeding and bonding.

With the limited evidence, UK doctors advise that women and healthy infants, not otherwise requiring neonatal care, are kept together in the immediate postpartum period. A risk-benefit discussion between neonatologists and families is recommended to individualise care in babies that may be more susceptible. However, it is also emphasised that this guidance may change as the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly evolving. 

For the baby’s well-being and because of other reports of infection during the early neonatal period, Dr Pamela Tan prefers isolating the mother and newborn as a needed interim consideration to prevent transmission. The American CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) also suggests the same measure. 

Is there a drug treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19?

At present, there is no direct treatment or a drug that can destroy the COVID-19 virus. What can be done to relieve symptoms is to apply supportive care. For example, if a person can’t breathe, they are given oxygen therapy, or if they cannot drink or eat, intravenous fluid replacements are introduced.

Possible vaccines and specific drug treatments are still under investigation. In some countries, drug trials are already underway, and just like the flu vaccine, let’s hope that these treatments would be safe for pregnant women too. A study from Wuhan reported that 7 pregnant patients with COVID 19 pneumonia were treated with oxygen therapy and antiviral therapy in isolation. The outcomes for both mother and neonate were good for the 7 patients. More trials are needed to prove the effectiveness of the drugs and effects on the fetus. 

At a time where the disease is at its infancy but potently affecting many around the world, pregnant women should aim to keep themselves in harm’s way as much as possible.

While little is known yet about COVID-19 and how it affects pregnant women, Dr Pamela Tan would be happy to assist you with your concerns. You may check out our official FACEBOOK PAGE for recent updates on this topic, or you may give us a call at +65 6254 2878 (Thomson). 

Major Thyroid Disorders During Pregnancy

Your Thyroid Gland at a Glance

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located in the base of the neck. It’s about 2 inches long and it is wrapped around your windpipe (trachea). It’s part of the endocrine system, and it plays a vital role in the growth, development, and metabolism of the human body. 

Thyroid Anatomy - Dr Pamela Tan

The thyroid makes and stores hormones (T3 and T4) that are essential to how every cell in the body functions. Among many other things, these hormones help regulate body processes such as your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, metabolism and even fertility. 

Thyroid Function in Pregnancy

Thyroid hormone is important during pregnancy for normal fetal development. During the first 10-12 weeks, your baby completely relies on you for thyroid hormones for brain development. This explains why your thyroid hormone requirements increase during pregnancy. 

By the end of the first trimester, your baby can already produce thyroid hormones on its own. However, it will continue to depend on you to get adequate iodine intake to make thyroid hormones. 

To avoid pregnancy issues related to thyroid hormone levels, striking a balance is vital. Studies show that deficiencies can result in several complications and even irreversible damage. Meanwhile, overproduction isn’t any better since it also poses health risks for both mother and child. 

Thyroid Disorders in Pregnancy

Thyroid disorders are relatively common, but many are unaware that they have it. 

Besides being a pre-existing disease, thyroid problems can also develop during and after pregnancy. It can even alter thyroid function in women who have no abnormalities to begin with. Pregnancy-related hormones, estrogen and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) may cause your thyroid levels to rise making it challenging to diagnose thyroid diseases during pregnancy. This is why it’s important to get thyroid hormone levels screened before planning for pregnancy or soon after you discover that you’re pregnant. 

Moreover, women can still develop thyroid problems up to a year after giving birth. This is why post-partum doctor visits will help keep everything in check. 

Here’s a closer look at two major thyroid issues during pregnancy. 


Symptoms of Hypothyroidism - Dr Pamela Tan

Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland is unable to make enough thyroid hormones to keep the body running normally. It can stem from several causes, the most common of which is the initial presence of an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It can also occur in women with inadequate treatment for hypthyroidism, or in hyperthyroid women who got over-treated with anti-thyroid medications. 

Having an underactive thyroid means crucial body processes slow down. Mild hypothyroidism may show no symptoms and even if there was, it may be attributed to pregnancy. However, in severe cases, complications are more likely to occur. Maternally, it can increase the risk of miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, congestive heart failure, placental abnormalities, and postpartum bleeding. If left untreated or if poorly managed, these complications can be life-threatening to you and your baby.

Inadvertently, hypothyroidism can also impair a baby’s brain development. Babies who are born with hypothyroiditis will suffer from cognitive, neurological, and developmental abnormalities. They are also likely to be born prematurely with low birth weight. 

Planning ahead and discussing thyroid status with your primary care physician and OB helps prevent complications, especially among high-risk women. This involves proper screening tests, optimised treatment prior to becoming pregnant, and close monitoring throughout your pregnancy. For hypothyroidism, the goal is to provide adequate thyroid hormone replacement.

New mothers must ensure that they get follow-up medical attention even after delivery because thyroid conditions don’t usually resolve by itself. Some may even develop postpartum thyroiditis, which is the occurrence of a thyroid problem in the first year after pregnancy. Hence, therapy may have to be continued as necessary. 


Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism - Dr Pamela Tan

Normally, pregnancy hormones can cause the thyroid gland to slightly enlarge during pregnancy. However, in hyperthyroidism, there is an excess production of thyroid hormones which results in a goiter. This complication in pregnancy is often linked to an autoimmune disorder called Grave’s disease

This condition mostly affects young to middle-aged women in their child-bearing years, and it also tends to run in families. It may first appear during pregnancy or it may already be a pre-existing condition. Nevertheless, Grave’s disease poses a risk for both mother and baby if left unmanaged. 

Pregnant women with uncontrolled hyperthyroidism may experience a dangerous rise in blood pressure called pre-eclampsia. They are also at risk for miscarriages, pre-term delivery, and congestive heart failure. For some women, they may experience a sudden worsening of symptoms which is a medical emergency referred to as a thyroid storm

Furthermore, hyperthyroidism also carries a high risk for the baby with complications such as  intrauterine growth retardation, birth defects, and increased incidence of stillbirths. 

For the proper treatment of hyperthyroidism, your doctor will first review your symptoms and do appropriate screening tests to measure thyroid hormone levels. This condition entails frequent monitoring throughout your pregnancy. Medications will also be prescribed to control thyroid hormone production. Radioactive iodine is also a common treatment for hyperthyroidism, but it is not advised in pregnant and breastfeeding women. In some cases, surgery is needed to remove part of your thyroid, especially if there is an overactive nodule. 

Diagnosing the Problem

Since the symptoms of thyroid problems are closely similar to that of pregnancy, a correct diagnosis can be easily missed. 

The challenge with pinpointing thyroid problems in pregnancy is distinguishing the symptoms of the disease from that which are typical in pregnancy. Depending on the severity of the condition, a correct diagnosis can be easily missed. So, if you notice that something doesn’t feel right, alert your doctor as soon as possible. 

Diagnosis can be made through blood tests and imaging tests. Your blood can be extracted to tst for TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone), T3, and T4 levels. Checking for thyroid antibodies may also be done to check for any autoimmune disorders – a condition where your immune system attacks the thyroid gland by mistake. 

Imaging tests may also be done to arrive at a diagnosis. An ultrasound of the thyroid is used to detect the presence of nodules, it is also a necessary tool for disease management. A thyroid scan and uptake can also be done to check the size, shape and position of the thyroid. However, this is advised against pregnant and breastfeeding women because it uses radioactive materials. If there is a lump or nodule found during these diagnostic tests, a needle aspiration biopsy will be done where a small sample of that growth is removed to check if it is cancerous or not.

Women with thyroid problems can increase their chances of a healthy pregnancy if they get early prenatal care and closely work with healthcare providers in disease management.  Get in touch with Dr. Pamela Tan today for a thorough evaluation and customised medical advice.

5 Types of Mental Health Crises During and After Pregnancy

It’s not easy to admit that you’re not okay at a time when people would expect you to feel otherwise. In social media, pregnancy, childbirth, and delivery are often depicted through rose-tinted glasses through beautiful maternity photoshoots with friends and family sharing in your excitement. But this is not the case for you – and you don’t understand what’s going on. 

It’s important to know that just as you would carefully attend to you and your baby’s physiological needs, your mental health during and after pregnancy is also a real concern. Learn about the different psychological issues you can possibly encounter and what can be done about it.

1. Perinatal Depression

Perinatal is an umbrella term encompassing the time during your pregnancy up to a year after giving birth.

Perinatal depression may affect a woman during (antenatal or prenatal depression) or after (post-natal depression) pregnancy. We are familiar with the latter but less is commonly known about antenatal depression. Whether you are pregnant or not, everyone can benefit from understanding these conditions more. 

Antenatal Depression

For some women, instead of reeling in excitement during their pregnancy, they find themselves dealing with antenatal depression. Locally, it affects one in five women. Even though it’s common, it’s not easily observed because people often mistake it for the mood swings expected during pregnancy. 

Due to the relatively high levels of progesterone during the first trimester, women usually feel poorly around this time. However, hormonal changes alone don’t conclusively account for antenatal depression, it is an interplay of the following factors:

  • An unplanned pregnancy
  • A history of depression
  • Previous miscarriages
  • Domestic violence
  • A difficult birth experience
  • Poor support 
  • Stressful living conditions or major live events
  • Struggling with the pressure to meet the usual expectations of an expectant mom
  • Poor self-esteem and difficult childhood experience
  • Fetal abnormalities

Since this type of mental crisis is less understood, it’s difficult for expectant moms to fully grasp what they’re going through, and for the people around them to understand. Some celebrities were brave enough to open up saying that antenatal depression can be isolating because friends and families would expect you to ‘snap out of it.’ Unfortunately, it’s not something you can nurse over a good night’s rest – or if sleep would even be restful at all. 

Though it’s common, it’s not easily observed because people often mistake it for the mood swings expected during pregnancy. 

To know if your mood changes need to be flagged out to your doctor, observe if you have the following signs and symptoms:

  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Sleeping too much or not very well at all
  • Irritability 
  • Loss of interest
  • Poor appetite 
  • Loss of concentration
  • No interest in intimacy
  • Sense of hopelessness about the future
  • Engaging in risk-taking behaviour 
  • Panic attacks 
  • Having thoughts of death or self-harm

In the first trimester, treatment may come in the form of therapy, counselling and familial support. Antidepressants are not advised at this point, unless depression is severe, because it may harm the baby’s developing organs. However, these medications may be given in serious cases during the second trimester while gradually weaning as you inch closer to your delivery. 

We have the tendency to attribute our feelings of stress to our hormones. But if what you’re going through is already beyond the normal worry and stress of pregnancy, and you find yourself being consumed by doubt and fear all the time, talk to your OB-GYN about it.

Post-Natal Depression

Post-natal/Postpartum depression should not be confused with baby blues. This deep emotional pain that comes 3 weeks after childbirth is marked by intense feelings of sadness, despair, and anxiety that prevent a new mom from doing her daily tasks. Meanwhile, baby blues involve mood swings and crying spells that typically lasts 2 weeks after giving birth. 

Baby blues typically worsen by the fourth or fifth day, but the symptoms subside on their own after two weeks. Unfortunately, a few develop postpartum psychosis, which is a rare but life-threatening disorder that requires immediate treatment. Postpartum depression lies between these two states and it can last up to a year. 

Considered as a major form of depression, symptoms include:

  • A depressed mood or sadness
  • Frequent mood changes
  • Sleeping problems
  • Change in appetite
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Thoughts are consumed by guilt or worthlessness
  • Reduced energy levels/constant fatigue
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Crying spells
  • Less interest in food, sex, or self-care
  • Thoughts of suicide

Hormones play a primary role in postpartum depression as the levels of estrogen and progesterone plummet 48 hours after delivery. This hormonal crash can result in emotional instability, especially in women who are biologically vulnerable. In addition, stress hormones also go out of whack which adds to a woman’s distress. Furthermore, a history of depression also increases the risk of postpartum depression. Stressful experiences such as lack of sleep and support also worsen the situation. 

New dads are not spared too. Around 1 in 10 men experience paternal postpartum depression (PPD) within the first year after the birth of a child. Conventional wisdom would tell us that a mother’s postpartum depression is triggered by hormonal fluctuations, but studies also show that a man’s hormones go into a spin along with the mother’s during and after pregnancy. Testosterone levels drop, while estrogen, prolactin and cortisol go up. Researchers speculate that the change might be about psychologically preparing to be a father.

Around 1 in 10 men experience paternal postpartum depression (PPD within the first year after the birth of a child).

After the baby arrives, the stress of adjustment can also take a toll on a new dad which can lead them to develop paternal depression. They express this through irritability, anxiety, anger, and aggressiveness. 

2. Perinatal Anxiety

Perinatal Anxiety - Dr Pamela Tan

Perinatal anxiety is a distinct and definable syndrome that is tied to a state of anxiety linked to common pregnancy-related stressors. These concerns may revolve around your health, your baby’s health, your impending birthing experience, and parenting role. 

It’s normal for mothers to feel anxious even during a normal pregnancy. Since anxiety is so common and expected response to any life transition, one of the challenges that women and care providers face is distinguishing normal or appropriate anxiety in a given situation from one that requires further attention and treatment. Not much is known about it that those affected remain undetected and untreated.

In one Singapore study, researchers found that 1 in 6 participants persistently experienced symptoms of perinatal anxiety. These symptoms may include excessive worry, panic attacks, loss of appetite, restless sleep, chest tightening, or repeated thoughts about something bad happening to the baby. This explains why perinatal anxiety often presents with elements of obsessive-compulsive disorder or panic disorder, but it falls short of meeting the criteria to make a diagnosis. Furthermore, it also overlaps with certain depressive symptoms

There are available screening tools to help diagnose anxiety disorders during the perinatal period. To improve clinical outcomes, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests that screening should be coupled with the appropriate referral, follow-up, and treatment.

Treatments for perinatal anxiety include talk therapy or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), self-help resources, and medications. You may choose one of these options or you may be offered a combination of talk therapy and medications. Physical activity, a shift in your focus, and breathing exercises can also help whenever anxiety attacks occur. Forging relationships through support groups can also help you with this struggle. 

3. Perinatal OCD

This is a type of anxiety disorder that comes with three components, these include: 

  • Thought or images that repeatedly come to mind, which are called obsessions
  • Anxiety that arises from obsessional thoughts.
  • Thoughts or actions which you feel you have to do repeatedly to reduce anxiety, which is called compulsions.

Obsessive thoughts can be distressing as you wrestle with unwanted thoughts, doubts, images, or urges. These concerns often tread along perfectionism, where you find yourself making a strong effort to get everything exactly right.

Anxiety comes when you feel the need to carry out your impulsive thoughts. The desire to see it through is validated when you feel better after you’ve done it. However, any relief you feel will be short-lived.

Compulsions may include rituals, checking (e.g. repeatedly checking your baby if he/she is still breathing), seeking assurance, correcting obsessional thoughts (e.g. counting, praying or saying a special word), and avoiding situations or activities that trigger their obsessions and compulsions (e.g. mothers avoid spending alone time with their baby).

There is a specific form of CBT called exposure and response prevention (ERP). This involves talking therapy that will help you understand how your OCD works and how you can overcome it. For this, you need to confront your obsessions and resist the urge to act on your compulsions. Medications may be given to manage your anxiety.

4. PostPartum PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

Postpartum Depression - Dr Pamela Tan

This is another type of anxiety disorder that is caused by certain reproductive trauma. This refers to any experience related to reproductive health events that are perceived as a threat to your physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual integrity.

Common reproductive traumas include:

  • Infertility 
  • Unplanned pregnancies
  • Pregnancy complications
  • A prolonged and difficult labour 
  • Short, intense labour
  • Medical complications in your baby/ NICU stay
  • Miscarriage
  • Abortion
  • Stillbirth
  • Maternal complications during or after delivery
  • Sexual assault

Postpartum PTSD involves extreme alertness or feeling on edge, avoidance of feelings and memories, and re-living aspects of the trauma. Those who suffer from it may experience intense distress, vivid flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, panic, aggressive behaviour, lack of concentration, and feeling detached/’emotional numbing.’

Treatment for PTSD involves Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) designed for PTSD patients and Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) which involves rhythmic eye movements that are designed to help speed up readjustment and recovery.

5. Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis (PP) is a serious but rare illness compared to the rates of postpartum depression or anxiety. It has a sudden onset which often occurs within the first 2 weeks postpartum. Anyone suffering from it will experience a mix of depression, mania, and psychosis

Women who are predisposed to PP are those with a family history of the illness, a clinically diagnosed bipolar disorder, a previous psychotic episode, and a traumatic birth or pregnancy. However, you can also develop PP even if you have no history of mental health problems at all. It’s also common in first pregnancies than subsequent ones. 

Common signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis include:

  • Delusions or strange beliefs
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Severely depressed
  • Hallucinations
  • Feeling very irritated
  • Paranoia and suspiciousness
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Decreased need for or inability to sleep

With professional help, postpartum psychosis is temporary and treatable. However, it is considered an emergency and it is essential that you receive immediate help. To manage your mood and psychotic symptoms, you may be offered an antipsychotic drug or an antidepressant. But if you don’t respond to other treatments, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is also an option.

With professional help, postpartum psychosis is temporary and treatable.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from postpartum psychosis, call your doctor or an emergency crisis hotline right away to get the help you need. 

Mental problems in pregnancy and the postpartum period can be distressing for women. But the good thing is that these problems can be remedied. It takes the right help to overcome these challenges, but more importantly, it takes courage to admit that you need it.

Besides getting professional help for the physiological milestones of pregnancy, don’t hesitate to seek help for your mental health when you sense that something is off. Find caring treatment with Dr. Pamela Tan. Discuss your concerns today through a personal consultation.