It’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month in May and World Maternal Mental Health Awareness Day on May 4th. Whether it’s caring for their kids, running the household, or earning money for the family, they do it all. Mothers can make it look so easy when it can be anything but. And the challenges in terms of mental health and wellbeing can begin even from the early stages of pregnancy. Alongside morning sickness, mood swings, severe fatigue, nasal congestion, and increased appetite it is also common for mothers to face medical complications related to depression and anxiety.
However, the struggles of motherhood don’t simply vanish when the child is born, but rather, different challenges tend to surface. Difficulties related to breastfeeding, a lack of sleep from constantly tending to the baby’s needs all while having a body that is healing from bringing new life into this world. There is a lot for mothers to deal with, which can lead to heavier amounts of mental stress. So, let’s take some time to honor all moms by learning how to best support their mental health and well-being.
Postpartum Depression Symptoms
It is important to understand that depression and anxiety can happen at any point during a woman’s lifetime but for many mothers, the period around pregnancy and after the birth of a new child can be a particularly high-risk period for their mental health. In our previous blog, Addressing How Biological and Social Factors Impact Women’s Mental Health we discussed perinatal depression. There’s a collective term now for prenatal depression before the baby’s born and postpartum depression after the baby’s born — perinatal depression. It is considered normal to get the ‘baby blues’ for a couple of days after giving birth since it has an immense impact on a woman’s mind and body. However, if feelings of sadness/emptiness last for more than two weeks in the post-birth period it is likely one could be suffering from postpartum depression (Office on Women’s Health, 2019) and it may be useful for them to seek out advice from their healthcare provider. One may also experience other signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression that are worth looking out for, such as:
- Feeling sad with little to no warning
- Feeling unreasonably angry or irritated
- Feeling mentally ‘foggy’ and finding it hard to execute simple tasks
- Feeling anxious around the baby or other children
- Feeling like a failure as a mother leading to feelings of guilt
How Common is Postpartum Depression?
According to researchers, pregnant women and women with children commonly suffer from depression during and after pregnancy. In fact, it is so common that 1 in 8 women experience postpartum depression after giving birth and rates seem to be on the rise. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2021) compared postpartum depression diagnoses of women who delivered babies in the year 2000 and 2015, showing that rates of postpartum depression had increased seven times in that 15-year period. In part, some of this increase may be related to increased awareness and screening for mental health problems in the postpartum period, although findings also showed that many women still are not routinely screened for depression and anxiety during postpartum follow-ups.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes postpartum depression since there are many factors to consider. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms, so one person’s experience is not the same as another. Researchers think that a mix of emotional, physical, and environmental variables contribute to the cause. However, there are risk factors that can help women and their healthcare providers identify signs to look out for:
- A challenging birth or pregnancy
- Birthing twins or other multiples
- Depression & anxiety in your family history
- Going through financial problems
- Experiencing relationship problems with your partner
- Having an unplanned pregnancy
- Having little to no help from your partner, family, or friends when it comes to caring for your baby
Mothers, It’s Time to Focus on You
It is important that mothers take the time to prioritise their mental health for both themselves and those around them. SilverCloud has a family support suite that uses internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy to assist families including a program specifically for new parents in overcoming their mental health struggles. Of course, there are some small steps you can take today to help support healthy mental health practices.
Even small changes can have positive results. Here are some suggestions to try out:
- Make time for yourself by having a loved one, partner, or family friend look after the kids while you focus on yourself. Maybe it’s time to get out of the house to get a change of scenery? Or maybe, stay home and take a nice hot, relaxing bath.
- Try connecting with other moms in your community or online to get advice and an empathetic ear. It truly helps to not feel alone.
- Do something that you love as often as you can whether it’s reading a book, watching your favorite show or movie, or just listening to your favorite tune.
- Be realistic by understanding that you don’t have to be a ‘supermom.’ You cannot do everything. You don’t need the ‘perfect’ home. Just do your best while taking some time for yourself.
- It can be hard for some of us to ask for help, but we are all human. We need help from time to time and that’s okay!
- Schedule time in your week to connect with other people. As a mother, it can be easy to feel isolated, so take the time to see people in your life that can give you the company and comfort that you deserve.
- Seek out resources to get more ideas on how to best support yourself and your children. Postpartum Support International and your healthcare provider are suitable places to get started.