May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month and April 30th-May 5 is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week. The BlueDot Project is encouraging moms across the country to “get real about motherhood by posting photos and updating their social media status with images and posts that show the real face of motherhood.” Participants are invited to use the hashtags #RealMotherhood and #NoShame. According to the BlueDot Project, depression and anxiety impact 1 in 5 pregnant and postpartum women. The project’s purpose is to “raise awareness of maternal mental health disorders and to combat stigma and shame.”
As a new mom and a mental health counselor, I am aware and concerned with the topic of maternal mental health as well. Thankfully, attentiveness towards postpartum depression has become more widespread. Both my OB/GYNs and my son’s pediatrician would assess for this at every appointment I had during my pregnancy and for several months after giving birth. What people may be less aware of is postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, depression or anxiety during pregnancy, post-adoption depression, postpartum PTSD, etc. (you can find a full list at www.postpartumprogress.com).
You may have heard of the “baby blues” women can experience postpartum. This is due to women being more vulnerable to depression immediately following childbirth, where they can experience extreme sensitivity, moodiness and sleep problems. Some statistics show that up to 80% of women experience this mild, short-term mood state, but it usually resolves within a few weeks postpartum without the need for treatment. However, as many of 15% of women experience a much more serious and concerning state of depression that needs immediate professional help.
So what causes postpartum depression or anxiety?
If you have a personal or family history of depression or anxiety, you may have an increased risk. Also, the psychological challenges of parenting an infant, the physical and mental stress of labor and delivery, and lack of sleep can all contribute as well.
Who is most vulnerable?
Again, if you have a personal or family history of depression or anxiety, you are at the greatest risk. If you have had postpartum depression or anxiety previously, your odds of having it with subsequent births is about 50%. Also, women who are single, in an unsupportive or abusive relationship, or have multiple children are susceptible. You can find an extensive list of symptoms at www.postpartumprogress.com.
How are maternal mental health issues treated?
For postpartum depression and anxiety, psychotropic medications (antidepressants, antianxiolytics) for moderate to severely depressed/anxious women are an effective tool, and can be safe during breastfeeding as well.
Psychotherapy using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) have been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression and anxiety.
Self-care and support for new moms can be beneficial to the postpartum adjustment period. Making sure you are getting adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise is imperative not only for your physical wellbeing, but mentally as well. Getting support from family, friends, and other moms to assist with housecleaning, meals, daily tasks, and emotional support can help with being overly fatigued and feeling overwhelmed.
My personal observations on this topic have to do with understanding humanity throughout history and in our own current culture. During the course of human history, it was not abnormal for a new baby to be raised and cared for by an entire family group or tribe (this is also common in many cultures around the world today). Grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins would all help take care of the new mother and baby.
In fact, some translations of the story of Ruth in the Bible indicate that Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, actually became the wet nurse for her grandson (Ruth 4:6, NRSV), meaning she was the one that breastfed him! I had a friend tell me about her experiences in the Dominican Republic of women who were neighbors, and not necessarily blood related, letting other children breast-feed, besides their own. I’ve seen this to some extent here in America, where women who may produce more milk than their baby needs will donate the extra pumped milk to a “milk bank.” All of this to say, caring for a new baby in a vacuum or with just one, maybe two people doing 100% of the work does not seem to be the natural human experience.
I would love to see women get the help they need pre and postpartum. If you feel you may be struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, or you know someone who is, please reach out and get help. If there is a new mama in your life, reach out and provide a tangible service that will help her out. Let’s end the shame and stigma around these issues and support the women and children in our lives. At Grace Counseling we have therapists equipped to deal with these issues, including myself. Call today to make your appointment and get back on the path to mental health and wellbeing.
Mama, you are strong. You are worthy. You are valued. You are loved.
Marinda is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) at Grace Counseling. She enjoys working with Women, Children, Teens and their Families. Marinda is equipped to work with anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal behavior, academic stress, ADHD, learning disorders, social phobias, OCD, transitions (marriage, divorce, re-marriage, parenthood, and relocations), communication issues, pre and post-partum anxiety/depression, trauma and abuse.