Motherhood is a journey that is celebrated as a magical and life-changing experience, yet it is rarely acknowledged that this journey can also bring about a rollercoaster of emotions, mental health challenges, and feelings of self-doubt.
According to The Motherhood Center, 1 in 5 women experience a PMAD, and PMAD rates have risen as high as 70% during the pandemic, while many others suffer through various experiences that are common but feel very isolating, including but not limited to loss, infertility, and traumatic birth experiences.
Navigating the enchanting yet challenging voyage of motherhood may feel like an impossible feat, but the truth is, we are not meant to walk this path alone. The old proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," rings true for a reason; having a strong support system plays a crucial role in promoting maternal mental health and overall well-being.
In this post, our friends at The Matrescence will explore the importance of recognizing the signs of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, and how building your village is essential for navigating the complexities of motherhood. Let's dive into the world of maternal mental health - because in the end, a healthy, supported mother makes for a healthy, nurtured child.
Normal mama worry? Or more?
New mamas can expect a broad range of emotions during the postpartum period. From the elation and love experienced when holding your newborn to the overwhelming feelings of responsibility and even guilt, these emotions are all a normal part of the transition into motherhood. Baby blues, feeling overwhelmingly emotional and teary, can affect 60-80% of new mamas. It typically peaks a few days postpartum and should go away on its own within about 2 weeks. It is vital to normalize this mix of emotions to better equip new moms in managing them, while also educating what is normal versus what might warrant more pillars of support.
Things to note about “normal mama worries”:
- Worries and anxiety about the overwhelming responsibility of caring for a baby are normal, but they should not interfere with your daily functioning.
- There can be temporary intrusive thoughts that come and go (although scary, they don’t “stick” ).
- Intrusive thoughts are commonly centered around harm coming to your baby causing you to feel distress/fear.
- Your coping skills are effective at helping you calm down and feel more like yourself.
- You are able to problem-solve and lean on pillars of support to navigate emotions and problems.
- They cause minimal physical symptoms and do not significantly interfere with your daily functioning.
Recognizing the Signs: When to Seek Help
While feeling a wide range of emotions is normal, it is crucial to recognize when these emotions may signal a more serious issue.
Signs that you may be experiencing more than just “new mom worries” might include:
- Prolonged sadness, hopelessness, or feeling empty.
- Loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy.
- Emotions interfere with your daily activities.
- Persistent anxiety, catastrophic thoughts, panic attacks.
- Loss of appetite and/or sleep disturbances.
- Difficulty bonding with your baby or feeling detached/irritable.
- Development of intrusive, negative thoughts that are “sticky”, meaning they don’t just pop up and then pass, they are bothersome + persistent (intrusive thoughts are experienced by 70-100% of new mamas!)
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, we encourage you to seek help from your healthcare provider or a mental health professional.
We recommend the following resources:
- Postpartum Support International
- National Maternal Mental Health Hotline
- National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
- Your local Emergency Room, when in crisis.
Proactively Putting Pillars of Support in Place
There are several ways to set yourself up for optimal emotional and mental health as a new mama. Here are some tips to consider:
- Educate yourself and those around you about the emotional changes during motherhood and postpartum depression/anxiety. Check out this guide created for just that!
- Accept help from others, such as friends, family, or healthcare providers. Seeking and accepting support when needed shows great insight and is a sign of strength, not weakness!
- Prioritize self-care: knowing and embracing this might look different in motherhood, do something each day that brings you joy. Gentle movement, morning sunlight, and prioritizing nourishing foods and sleep hygiene (quality over quantity, mama!).
- Open communication with your partner or a support person about your emotions and concerns. It is a good idea to have these conversations proactively and to identify who you would go to if you aren’t feeling yourself. Let them know that they are your person!
- Consider joining a support group or seeking therapy to build a healthy support system. Various pillars of support exist to help you, mama. A neutral sounding board or a private space to connect with these resources might be just what you need!
Building Your Village
We were not meant to do this alone! Our ancestors navigated motherhood with literal villages of support. We have gone from a front porch mentality to a privacy fence and we are suffering because of it. A strong support system is essential in helping new mamas ease the transition into motherhood. This support system can come in the form of a partner, family, friends or medical professionals. A reliable support system can offer emotional and practical support and can often empathize with your experience, and be a neutral sounding board for concerns or fears. Build your village and accept the help, mama.
Long-term Implications + Importance of Shedding Light on This Topic
Mental health struggles can impact both the mama and the child, potentially affecting the child's emotional and cognitive development. Secure attachment and maternal mental health play a significant role in a child's well-being; therefore, it is crucial to address any mental health issues that arise during the postpartum period and to connect mamas with various resources that will guide her to optimal mental health + wellness in motherhood.
Navigating the emotional challenges that come with motherhood can be complex and overwhelming. Recognizing the difference between normal new mom emotions and potentially more serious issues is vital for the well-being of both mama and child. Building a strong support system and implementing proactive strategies can make a significant difference. Together, we can support one another in navigating maternal mental health and promoting a positive experience for all mamas and growing families.
BMC Psychiatry, Collardeau, F., Corbyn, B., Abramowitz, J. et al. Maternal unwanted and intrusive thoughts of infant-related harm, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression in the perinatal period: study protocol. BMC Psychiatry 19, 94 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-019-2067-x
The Matrescence was born out of a desire to provide more maternal support after personally facing bouts of debilitating anxiety, feelings of loneliness, and in an attempt to seek validation and connection. We are two moms (Lauren is a board-certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner and boy mom times three and Megan a marketing guru and mom of 3 under 6) on a mission to change the landscape of maternal mental health and to identify its role and importance to overall wellness. The Matrescence is a maternal mental health community providing a space to learn, heal, and grow – we hope to see you inside the community!