28 May

What you need to know about maternal mental health

The month of May brings in spring weather (with the exception of an occasional blizzard!), birds chirping, flowers blooming and Mother’s day celebrations. The spring is a great reminder of hope, new life, and the beauty of change. These themes are echoed in the sacred season of pregnancy and new motherhood.  Motherhood is portrayed as a beautiful time in a woman’s life, but some women experience Postpartum Anxiety or Depression. It is not only important to raise awareness of the symptoms, but also remove the negative stigmas around asking for help. This article is not only for new moms, but for anyone who comes into contact with new moms.  

May is Maternal Mental Health month and brings attention to the importance of wellness in this season. Transitioning into parenthood is full of beauty and joy yet also stress and challenging emotions that often get overlooked.  Maternal Mental Health month highlights the realities of mental health challenges and aims to bring awareness and support to new moms. Awareness of the facts of postpartum depression and anxiety is key to helping moms and loved ones identify what may be getting in the way of enjoying this new season of life.

How to Recognize Depression and Anxiety?

The Baby Blues

Up to eighty percent (80%) of women will experience the “baby blues” after giving birth, at which time a she may feel sad, have mood swings and crying episodes. The baby blues will go away without professional treatment within two weeks.

Pregnancy and Postpartum Depression

Maternal anxiety and depression are the most common complications of childbirth, impacting up to 1 in 5 women, yet they are not commonly screened for or treated.

Fifteen to twenty percent (15-20%) of women will experience clinical depression during pregnancy or postpartum.

If a woman has a history of major depression, she is 30–40% likely to experience a depressive relapse during her pregnancy

About 9.4%-12.7% of pregnant women in the United States experience antepartum (during pregnancy) depression

Signs and symptoms:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of pleasure in things that normally bring her joy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping (even when the opportunity is present) or sleeping too much
  • Extreme fatigue not explained by sleep pattern changes due to caring for a baby
  • Feelings of inadequacy or guilt
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feeling physically agitated or slowed
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Difficulty bonding with her baby
  • Feeling regret for having a baby
  • Thinking her family would be better off without her
  • Fearful of leaving the house or being alone
  • Isolating herself from friends and family
  • Unexplained anger or irritability
  • Feeling fearful that she might harm herself or her baby
  • Difficulty doing daily tasks and activities
  • Feeling “out of control”

Pregnancy and Postpartum Anxiety

Up to fifteen percent (15%) of women will develop anxiety during pregnancy or after childbirth.

Pregnancy and Postpartum Anxiety include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Risk factors for perinatal anxiety and panic include a personal or family history of anxiety, previous perinatal depression or anxiety, or thyroid imbalance.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Excessive worry
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Hypervigilance
  • Fear of being alone with her baby
  • Obsessions (persistent intrusive thoughts or mental images) that are related to the baby.  
  • Compulsions (repetitive, ritualistic behaviors that are difficult to control). A mother may engage in these behaviors to reduce fears and obsessions.
  • Intrusive re-experiencing of a traumatic experience (may be a traumatic delivery)
  • Avoidance of things and situations related to a traumatic event
  • Physical symptoms including: fatigue, muscle tension, chest pains, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, sweating, shaking, numbness and tingling in extremities, and/or heart palpitations
  • Feeling detached

How to pursue health and wellness

Understanding the facts of maternal mental health and knowing the symptoms help a mom move forward toward healing and health. Recognizing a health concern, knowing you are not alone, and that there are ways to feel better brings hope and helps the healing journey begin. Understanding why peri and postpartum issues occur can help a new mom and her family to realize how complex and at times out of control her feelings may be.

What may be happening to cause maternal mental health concerns:

  • biological changes
  • hormone changes
  • increased responsibilities
  • role changes
  • relational adjustments
  • building a sense of readiness and self-efficacy
  • stress
  • isolation
  • lack of sleep
  • birth trauma
  • loss of baby
  • transitions: moving, divorce, death of loved one
  • low self esteem

How can we support new moms?

Most importantly, we should encourage mothers to seek help when we notice the signs of postpartum depression or anxiety. There are many ways to help peri and post-partum depression and anxiety and the best way to help is utilizing many resources and strategies. A counselor can help a new mom form a plan, learn new coping skills, and be a non-judging listener.  We at Grace Counseling can help take the first steps toward wellness and support her through her journey.

Examples of interventions include:

  • Social Support
  • Counseling
  • Medications
  • Wellness: exercise, nutrition, supplements, acupuncture
  • Emotion regulation skills
  • Coping skills
  • Relaxation methods: muscle relaxation, breathing
  • Self-care
  • Education

Grace Counseling wants to support moms in this important season of life and help them experience more joy in their lives. Please contact us to learn more, we can help!

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