Mothers and Moms-to-Be Need Not Suffer ‘Baby Blues’ Alone
Delivering a baby is no walk in the park, but neither is struggling with mental health.
According to the World Health Organization, about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who’ve recently given birth experience some kind of mental disorder. The most common one is depression, but anxiety is another issue. Both conditions can affect women in any walk of life, but in developing nations, those numbers are even higher.
In worst-case scenarios, the mother may take her own life, and that can have disastrous effects on her child (or children).
Depression brings with it feelings of sadness and emptiness, while anxiety is marked by nervousness, fear, and worry. Both conditions can interfere with everyday functioning, including care for self and/or baby.
A mother with depression may put herself or her infant at risk because it may cause her to eat too little, or to neglect self-care. Breastfeeding may be lax. The infant-mother bond may not develop as strongly in such cases.
Infanticide is another risk, though incredibly rare.
New moms experiencing one or both may hope it’s something that will fade on its own, but such conditions tend to linger like a truly unwelcome guest.
The good news is that such mental disorders are treatable.
Making mental health checkups a regular part of women’s health care — whether it’s connected to pregnancy, reproductive health, or an annual physical — such efforts can uncover potential sources of distress.
Signs and Risk Factors
Knowing the signs and risk factors can help, too.
A woman is most vulnerable during pregnancy and in the first year following delivery, but many conditions can make things worse. They include poverty, high levels of stress, exposure to violence, emergencies, conflicts, and poor social supports. All can raise the likelihood of developing depression, anxiety, or a related disorder.
Signs of depression and anxiety include:
- Sadness, irritation, or anger without any clear reason or warning
- Feeling distracted, absentminded, or having trouble focusing
- Being distracted, and going through the motions
- Feeling anxious around the baby or one’s other children
- Inexplicable guilt, or feeling like a failure
Losing interest in once-loved activities, and experiencing frightening and unsettling thoughts that linger, those also are signs of a problem.
Poverty, trauma, and lack of social support are a few of the risk factors for depression and anxiety, but the following also raise the likelihood an expectant or new mother may be vulnerable to mental illness. They include:
- A history of both or either depression or anxiety. It doesn’t matter if it’s before, during, or after pregnancy
- A family history of mental disorders
- A difficult pregnancy or birth experience
- Twin or multiple births
- History of both or either, either during pregnancy or other times
- An unsupportive partner
- An unplanned pregnancy
Things That Can Help
When depression or anxiety take hold of a new or expectant mother, counseling (like talk therapy), and/or medications may help. So can the following:
- Connecting with others (especially other moms)
- Making time for oneself
- Doing things you like
- Being realistic; no one has to be a supermom
- Getting some rest (especially when the baby is napping or sleeping)
If you have risk factors, communicate with your doctor or a mental health professional. Be realistic, plan ahead when possible, and be kind to yourself.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It takes more effort to that instead of nothing. It can also be a life-enhancing (not to mention potentially life-saving) move.
Happy Mother’s Day.
who.int – Maternal mental health
nichd.nih.gov – Mom’s Mental Health Matters
sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – A Guide to Managing Postpartum Depression
suicidepreventionlifeline.org – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline