Let’s talk about maternal mental health. Close on the heels of Bell Let’s Talk day, mental health is coming to the forefront of this global pandemic as a serious and long-lasting side effect of isolation, lack of social resources, and uncertainty. As we face ongoing and increasing stress, we are unable to access many of the resources that we know have positive impacts on mental health: exercise facilities, community gatherings, faith-based communities, support groups, and hobbies. Sadly, for new mothers, the ability to access support groups and resources has also been limited and this is extremely detrimental to their mental health and wellbeing.
Depression and Anxiety in New Mothers
According to Stats Canada 2019, almost one-quarter of new mothers report symptoms that are consistent with post-partum depression or an anxiety disorder. The numbers in the United States are even more alarming, showing an increase over a ten-year span from 18% to 40% of new mothers reporting symptoms of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs). And these are just the moms that are reporting symptoms – the ones that the system can appropriately screen, diagnose, and treat. PMADs continue to be under-diagnosed and under-treated: research estimates that only 40% of all cases are detected and of those identified cases only 60% are treated (Perinatal Support International, postpartum.net).
Here is what we know: new moms need one another. Psychosocial factors are the biggest risk factors for postpartum women. A woman’s social identity is extremely important to her sense of self and many women are lacking the community connection that would allow them to normalize their experiences or differentiate between normal and concerning psychological adjustments. A sense of “us” provides belonging, connection, and a safe space to receive social support and build their belief in their abilities as a new mother. Insufficient programs for new moms mean they don’t have the opportunity to make these valuable connections with other mothers and gain support, gather information, normalize, and feel a sense of control. In a world that seems out of control, facing the most important and demanding role of their life, new moms need a space where they can claim some control, connect with one another, and rebuild their sense of self.
Mental Health Tips for New Mothers
If you’re a new mother and you are reading this, you’re probably thinking: “So now what?!” Here are six things you can do to improve your mental health and wellbeing:
1) Be kind to yourself. Give yourself grace and patience. This is a brand-new role, and your baby didn’t come with a manual! You will make mistakes, you will doubt yourself, and you will feel overwhelmed. Remind yourself what you are doing well: loving and being responsive to that little one.
2) Lower your expectations and shrink that to-do list. There is no physical way that you can keep up with all the demands of caring for a baby, working, household chores, etc. So, choose some that you can easily cut from the list… can someone else help with meal prep or laundry? Can bathrooms be cleaned less often? Prioritize what is most important to you and embrace letting some other things go.
3) Get outside. Taking a break from the four walls of your house is a necessary and important thing to do! Get some vitamin D, breathe some fresh air, and boost your endorphins with physical activity.
4) SLEEP! Sleep is so important for your physical, mental, and emotional health. If you are having trouble sleeping, explore some soothing activities like yoga, journaling, or mindfulness to help you find calm at the end of the day. Natural supplements like magnesium or melatonin might be helpful. Talk to your doctor if you are unable to fall asleep or stay asleep when baby is sleeping.
5) Plan something to look forward to each week. Whether it is a walk with a friend, a drive-thru coffee, or a trip to the shopping mall, try to schedule in an activity that boosts your mood and gets you out of the house. If it also involves another adult human being (particularly a fellow mom), bonus points for you!
6) Join a local postpartum support group if you can. Ask your doctor if they are aware of any providers offering one, check Facebook for informal online groups, call 211 to inquire about available resources, or call 811 to speak to a registered nurse.
Remember, you are not alone in dealing with all of the stress and new feelings that come with motherhood. Don’t be afraid to reach out and find the mental health resources that will work for you. When it comes to mental health, you’ve always got friends here at Flourish!