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Mental Health for Moms: Maternal Mental Health

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Moms and Mental Health Series

Here at MSB, we specialize in talking about Mental Health issues from the unique perspectives of those who experience them.

That’s why we’re dedicating this series specifically to Moms who struggle with their Mental Health.

Why? Because Moms don’t get the choice to step back and work on their Mental Health as easily as the rest of us do. Their time is rarely their own. They need strategies on Mental Health to fit that busy lifestyle.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with Mama Shark Blog to bring you this unique series. We’re here to bring you advice tailored to your experience, Mama! We hope it helps <3

Maternal Mental Health

Motherhood is a beautiful experience. But for some of us who struggle with mental health conditions, it may also be a truly difficult experience.

From pregnancy to birth to postpartum and everything in between, mothers can experience a range of issues. And it can happen to any woman, not just the ones who have a history of mental health issues. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) a whopping 23% percent of women worldwide suffer from some form of perinatal depression or other mental disorders.

That’s a lot of mamas!

Even with the prevalence of perinatal mental disorders, many of us don’t know enough about these conditions.

Until we go through them ourselves.

That’s right, even though they are a common occurrence, many expectant mothers are caught off guard by perinatal depression, anxiety and psychosis. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

That’s why we’ve teamed up with Mama Shark Blog today to change that by talking all about Maternal Mental Health!

What Can Cause a Maternal Mental Health Disorder?

According to this US News Article, the biggest culprit of a psychiatric condition during pregnancy is likely stress. Stress from the biological changes in your body, societal expectations, poverty, and/or an unsupportive environment can lead to depression for expectant mothers.

Physical illness can also contribute to unstable mental health during pregnancy. Intense morning sickness, gestational diabetes, and GERD can all make life miserable for soon to be moms.

It can be especially hard for women who have pre-existing psychiatric conditions. Why? Because many of us have to go off the prescribed medications that kept us stable before getting pregnant and during breast feeding. Combine that with the intense emotional and hormonal toll of having a child and you’re very much at risk for a serious mental health condition.

Why is it Important to Focus on Maternal Mental Health?

It’s important to focus on Maternal Mental Health because it affects all of us! Seriously, maternal wellbeing is the highest anthropologic indicator of a thriving society. (Data from the WHO again).

Women who are supported through pregnancy and motherhood are the cornerstone of a healthy society. That’s because countries that prioritize mother’s health have lower rates of infant mortality. Maternal health has also been correlated with lower rates of domestic violence, higher rates of education for all people, and greater economic success.

When it comes to Maternal Mental Health we have to remember that it’s not just the mother affected. It’s her children and her children’s children too. As we know, trauma can be handed down like a family heirloom. It’s passed on through genetics, stress during pregnancy, and maternal attachment issues during early childhood.

According to Zero to Three, this can lead to attachment disorders, addiction, and emotional disregulation in children. Those children often grow up to have anxiety and depressive disorders of their own.

Perinatal Mental Health Conditions

So we know what Maternal Mental Health means and why it’s important. Now let’s take a look at how it can manifest from Pregnancy to Postpartum and beyond.

Depression

This is the most well known psychiatric disorder related to pregnancy and postpartum. It comes in a variety of forms:

  • Major Depressive Disorder or Unipolar Depression during or after pregnancy
  • Bipolar Disorder (which is the disorder most likely to be amplified by pregnancy)
  • Postpartum Depression

In this list from Maternal Mental Health Now, we see that Postpartum Depression can cause:

  • Sudden and intense feelings of sadness
  • Irritability
  • Anger/short Temper
  • Feelings of being an inadequate parent
  • Fatigue
  • Thoughts of harming self or baby
  • Increased suicidal ideation
  • Insomnia (beyond what is normal for a new parent)

Anxiety

Anxiety can occur anytime before, during, or after your pregnancy. It’s known as Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) if you experience consistent worries about your child up to a year after birth. According to Texas Childrens’ Hospital – PPA can happen on its own or alongside PPD. Its likely cause is a rapid lowering of estrogen and progesterone right after delivery.

During pregnancy, anxiety can also spike. This is partly hormonal and partly because of the “what ifs.” Fears of childbirth, emetophobia (fear of vomiting), and worrying about future uncertainties can all contribute to perinatal anxiety.

Anxiety is pretty common when you’re about to have a child. But if it’s 24/7 and centered around thoughts of something happening to your child, you may want to seek professional help.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD can happen during pregnancy and/or postpartum. It’s pretty close to regular OCD: obsessive thoughts that lead to compulsions to quiet overwhelming anxiety.

However, it may be more common for mothers to have intrusive thoughts centered around the baby and its wellbeing. These can be excessive worries about harm (either you hurting baby or baby being hurt by someone else). Or they can be intrusive thoughts about contamination.

OCD can be very debilitating and even frightening, especially for a new mother who’s never experienced it before.

Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder

PD can rear its ugly head anytime between pregnancy, postpartum and beyond. Panic attacks are characterized by sudden and intense feelings of fear. They are often coupled with shortness of breath, excessive sweating, and dizziness.

Lone panic attacks every once in a while do happen. However, it becomes a disorder when you experience them often (a few times a month).

Similar to other Perinatal Anxiety Disorders, Panic Disorder related to motherhood can come on because of stress or intrusive thoughts about the health of your baby.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

For some mothers, childbirth can be an incredible, uncomplicated experience. For others it can be a nightmare.

Childbirth itself is a pretty traumatic situation if you think about it. But many times, due to complications, it can become drastically worse. These complications include: sudden changes in birthing plans, invasive emergency procedures, and/or overbearing doctors. Even challenges with breastfeeding can be enough to traumatize an already stressed mama.

“Often the trauma is an emotional one: feelings of being powerless, of not being listened to, of not having adequate support during childbirth.”

Quotation from Whattoexpect.com

P-PTSD can deeply affect a mother for weeks, months or years after she gives birth. PTSD can also occur during pregnancy if the mother goes through an event perceived to be traumatic. This could be anything from the discovery of serious complications in utero to intense physical symptoms during pregnancy.

Psychosis

Postpartum Psychosis is rare only occurring in 1 or 2 deliveries in a thousand according to Postpartum.net. This psychiatric event can be incredibly intense and even sometimes dangerous. Psychosis (otherwise known as a break from reality) can be triggered by childbirth. Women run the risk of developing it suddenly up to two weeks after giving birth.

Patients who already have Bipolar Disorder are most at risk of developing psychosis but it can happen to any mother.

Symptoms include:

  • Delusions and Hallucinations that seem ultra realistic
  • Agitation and Hyperactivity
  • Paranoia and severe mood swings

Psychosis is a medical emergency and needs to be diagnosed and treated asap for the health of mom and baby.

What Can You Do About a Maternal Mental Health Disorder

First step is not to be ashamed. Having any of these disorders does not make you a bad or broken parent. It’s just hormones, stress, fatigue, and societal expectations coming together in a perfect storm.

If you need a little more guidance on this, here’s a great book called Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts. It’s a great guide that shows you you’re not alone Mama <3

Second, know that there are many treatment routes for perinatal mental health conditions. If you know you’ll have issues with your mental health while pregnant work with your doctor and psychiatrist to determine the best course of action. Many women have chosen to stay on antidepressants throughout their pregnancies. SSRIs are generally considered safe to use.

If medication isn’t an option for you during pregnancy, alternative treatments are available. Stress relieving practices like Reiki, massage, meditation and acupuncture have been suggested for expectant mothers suffering from anxiety and depression. Psychotherapy and counseling are two other excellent choices.

Reading and research will also be invaluable to you! There are lots of books, memoirs and guides out there to show you’re not alone! I’ve put together an Amazon reading list of my favorite books some of the topics we’ve discussed, check it out:

And last but not least, make sure to get support! There are so many mamas out there who have been through the same thing. Because of that there’s a ton of resources:

  1. Mama Shark’s Practical Strategies for Coping With Anxiety as a Mom
  2. This great article by Mama Shark “To the Mom With The “Hard” Baby
  3. These two inspiring stories of survival through Postpartum Anxiety and Postpartum Psychosis
  4. Find help and support through Postpartum.net, the internet’s leading resource site for perinatal mental health.
  5. Get connected with a Peer Mentor who has recovered from a perinatal mental health disorder.
  6. Check out our Maternal Mental Health Pinterest board with advice from all walks of life and inspiring quotes on motherhood.

Wrap Up

There you go mama, a complete guide on Maternal Mental Health! Real talk, my husband and I will be starting a family soon. I’m terrified that my Harm OCD and Depression will be overwhelming during and after pregnancy.

But I’m not going to let that stop me. I’m going to be proactive and do as much research as I can. I may not be able to stop a perinatal drop in my mental health, but I can certainly plan for it.

And you can too! We hope this article helps you through your journey <3 Let me know what’s helped you through any of these disorders in the comments below!!

Much Love,

MB

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A Word from our Partner Mama Shark

Mama Shark
Reducing the Mental Load of Motherhood

“Hi!  My name is Stephanie- aka Mama Shark!  I’m an Jesus-loving, introverted, somewhat crunchy, and highly practical mom of 2 precious, sleep-hating kiddos and I’ve been married for almost a decade to my wonderful husband. Creating order out of chaos is my jam and I am passionate about reducing the mental load of motherhood! 

As I worked out how to handle all these responsibilities (who knew tiny humans could require so much!), I wanted to do better.  Better in a “surely this can be made easier” kind of a way. I am wired to create order out of chaos- and let me tell you, I have plenty of chaos to work with! 

At MamaShark.blog, I am bringing my experience as an entrepreneur and my passion to make things easier for Mamas together into a practical how-to guide with the goal of reducing the mental load of Mamas and helping them live healthier, happier, and easier lives!

Oh and remember to check out Stephanie’s awesome 5 Day Declutter Your Mom Brain Challenge

Declutter Your Mom Brain.png

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Mad as Hell Mental Health Rights Advocate. Likes margaritas, long walks on the beach, and JUSTICE.

13 Comments

  • meganwriteseverything

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I definitely wish I had read this a few years ago instead of the super scary, hopeless articles I found about mental health and motherhood back then. Also, thanks for introducing me to Mama Shark!

    • mmorran1

      You’re very welcome, I know some of the mainstream articles on this topic can be all doom and gloom, glad this can be a good resource!

      Mama Shark (aka Stephanie) is totally awesome and gives some of the best advice I’ve read. I’m glad you found her!!

      • Dr Surabhi

        Great post! Most of the women suffer from post pregnancy depression due to hormonal changes. These tips can really help during the tough times.

  • J.A. Beck

    I am not a mother myself but have some friends that are new mommies and struggling a bit. I really appreciate how informative this post was, I feel better equipped to talk with my friend about their struggles.

  • Cristina Palmares

    I really believe mental health is such an important conversation, especially for moms. A lot of mothers brush it off because they have to be strong for their children but thank you so much for shedding light on this topic! Good luck on starting your family, dear! You can do this 😀

  • Angelika

    I agree, mental health is just as important as physical health. This post reminded me of when I had my first born and was being warned about possibly developing post partum Depression by a nurse, to which I replied “yea ok it won’t happen to me, in a happy person”. And two weeks later I was sobbing every day non stop.

  • StrongCalmKelsey

    This is such an important topic! Mental health and wellness is necessary for us all, but moms in particular can really struggle with taking time for themselves. Thanks for sharing!

  • Samantha

    I’m so glad you are tackling this, it’s soooo important and not talking about enough. I struggled with PPD and I felt so ashamed at the time. Talking about it and normalizing it will make it easier for women to seek help, be informed, and feel better!! Thanks for writing it!

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