Facts About Maternal Mental Health
Why Is Maternal Mental Health So Important?
As a new or expecting mother, you’ve probably heard about maternal mental health. You know about the wide range of illnesses, swinging from the baby blues all the way to maternal psychosis.
Maybe you are experiencing some of the symptoms of these postpartum disorders now. You’re reading this as you’re crying uncontrollably after a long and sleepless night, and you’re wondering if you’re crazy. Maybe you could hardly stand to get out of bed today, despite your baby’s cries, and you feel like something is wrong with you.
You’re wondering if you’re the only one.
Everyone told you pregnancy, birth, and motherhood are beautiful. You had this perfect image in your head of exactly the way your baby’s birth should go. You stood in the nursery and imagined peacefully rocking your baby to sleep every nap and bedtime. As you saw these moments play like a movie in your mind, you softly smiled and lovingly rubbed your pregnant belly.
Yet, here you are — your baby is wailing in the swing beside you, and you smother your face in your pillow to hide the desperate scream that you can’t hold back anymore. You haven’t showered in days, you’re exhausted, and your planned-out visions are crumbling to pieces all around you.
You feel like you can’t do it. You feel like motherhood isn’t for you.
Please know you aren’t alone. Around 80% of women experience some form of maternal mental health disorder within the first year of childbirth.
In this post, I’d like to shed some light on a few of the common maternal mental health illnesses. If you can relate to any of these, it’s time to reach out to someone you trust. Your mental health is critical in your role as a mother — for your own health and well-being and also for the well-being of your baby.
The four maternal mental health illnesses covered today are:
This is by no means an exhaustive list. You may experience something that is not included here. If you believe you are dealing with something that isn’t normal, please talk to someone you trust or contact your doctor.
The baby blues, or postpartum blues, are the most common form of maternal mental health mood disturbances. Up to 85% of women experience the baby blues after giving birth, usually within 2-3 days of delivery.
The baby blues are caused by the large shift in hormones following birth as your body works to process the major event that just took place.
You may find that you can’t stop crying in the days after your baby is born. You’ll swing from sadness that your pregnancy is over, to inexplicable joy over your new little miracle.
One minute you’ll be watching in admiration as your partner snuggles your baby, and the next you’ll be furious because he didn’t change the diaper “right”.
Rest assured, these feelings are so normal in the newborn phase, and they generally disappear within the first week or two.
Here are the typical symptoms of the baby blues:
The baby blues can last a few days and up to 2 weeks. If you notice symptoms persisting past this point, it is possible you have postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression can occur at any point from the time of birth up to one year. However, it typically presents itself within four weeks after birth. In some cases, women notice symptoms of depression beginning during pregnancy.
Around 10% of women experience postpartum depression within the first year of childbirth.
Some symptoms of postpartum depression include:
It’s important that you receive an official diagnosis if you believe you’re experiencing postpartum depression. There are many underlying medical conditions that can be the cause of postpartum depression — working with your doctor to discover the root of the problem is vital.
There are a few factors that play in postpartum depression. You may be more at risk if you have a:
Postpartum depression is manageable — if you are concerned that this is something you struggle with, take it to a professional who can help you work through it.
Every parent of a new child experiences some worry. It’s normal to have concerned thoughts and worries about your new baby, like:
Is he sleeping safely?
Is he eating enough?
Is he warm enough?
However, if you are experiencing these symptoms:
You may be part of the 17% of women that suffers from postpartum anxiety.
Closely tied to postpartum anxiety, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects 2-4% of women postpartum.
If you are a new parent, it’s normal to want to make sure you’re doing everything right. You may find yourself double-checking to make sure your baby is still breathing while sleeping, or washing the bottles an extra time just to be safe.
But if these worries become so obsessive that they make daily life difficult, you may be experiencing postpartum OCD. Often, moms suffering from postpartum OCD have obsessive thoughts that cause compulsions.
Compulsions are actions used to prevent your fears from happening. For example, you may fear germs that could make your baby sick, so you obsessively clean everything over and over again.
Do you find yourself repeatedly checking on your sleeping baby? Or maybe cleaning everything constantly for fear of germs? Maybe you hardly shower or use the restroom because you’re terrified of taking your eyes off your little one.
Women dealing with postpartum OCD may experience symptoms like:
If you think you have postpartum OCD, please talk to your doctor. Often, women withhold their concerns because they’re afraid of being shamed for the thoughts they have. Remember, many women are currently going through the same struggles.
Postpartum OCD often occurs in the first few weeks after birth, though you may not recognize it until several months down the road.
Why Maternal Mental Health Matters
In summary, maternal mental health is a subject that doesn’t receive enough attention. There are too many women dealing with maternal mental health illnesses that:
Believe something is wrong with them because they’re uninformed
Keep quiet because they’re afraid of judgment and shaming
Postpartum is a sensitive time for women. We’re going through a lot emotionally, physically, and mentally. Our whole world has been turned upside down and we’re required to acclimate immediately to the new dynamic.
More grace should be given to postpartum women — remember, up to 80% of women experience a form of maternal mental health illness. That means most of us are dealing with postpartum blues, depression, anxiety, OCD, and much more!
Why then, do we so often live in silent pain? Side by side, we walk our paths of postpartum disorders — quiet, hurting, and broken.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! The road to recovery is lined with helping hands. Sharing our stories helps normalize maternal mental health illnesses. Sharing our struggles gives other women the courage to do the same.
Have you struggled with maternal mental health illness? Share how your maternal mental health journey impacted your role as a mother in the comments below!