May 2016 Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month
The challenges that come with motherhood are plenty and there are things we can all relate to amongst a room full of new moms, but there are also the things that too often go unspoken for fear of embarrassment or judgment.
Doulas of Austin is raising awareness about postpartum mental health and what we can do together to support those who may be suffering.
There are a wide range of mental health disorders that are associated with postpartum wellness and are often categorized under a postpartum mood disorder.
Postpartum mood disorders typically occur within the first year of childbirth and are not restricted to only first time mothers. You may have heard of ‘baby blues’, but this very non-threatening name covers up what could extend into a much more serious mental health issue.
Postpartum depression is an extremely common mental health disorder associated with childbirth and can affect up to 25% of new mothers, but it is still treated by society as taboo. Many women who are affected by postpartum depression carry the weight of shame around and do not seek the help they so desperately need and deserve.
If left untreated, postpartum depression can lead to lifelong depression. Not only does postpartum depression take a toll on new moms, but the entire family is affected.
It is important to understand that postpartum depression is treatable with a medical diagnosis and professional care.
What are symptoms of postpartum depression?
If you have lingering feelings of helplessness, question your choice of motherhood, or feel as though you cannot handle the pressures and demands of parenting, it is possible you have postpartum depression.
Guilt, feelings of failure as a parent and the inability to bond with your baby are signs of postpartum depression.
Confusion, fear and extreme sadness during this time are also signs.
If you find yourself feeling disconnected, overwhelmed and with a sense of emptiness, you may be suffering from postpartum depression.
What is postpartum psychosis?
One of the more rare disorders, postpartum psychosis, is characterized by a rapid cycle of mood swings, incoherent speech, possible hallucinations and thoughts (that can turn into actions) of self harm or harm towards others – including the new baby. These symptoms are extremely serious. They need immediate diagnosis and fast, efficient medical intervention.
Obsessive compulsive disorder and panic disorder are two other PPMDs that can affect new mothers. Both of these disorders can cause extreme anxiety and fear, and can manifest themselves as physical ailments such as nausea, chest pains, and an overwhelming feeling of dread. Again, with the help of a medical professional, these can treat both of these as well.
What should I do if I think I may be experiencing a PPMD?
Many new moms remain quiet over the guilt they harbor from these feelings. Fear of judgment from their partner and society in general is too scary of a thought, and at times they may even fear having their child taken away. These thoughts may seem extreme or irrational to some, but they are a dark reality for many new mothers.
In addition, our society has the expectation that new moms are supposed to be “superwomen”. They are expected to return to life, as it was pre-baby almost immediately. When a new mother is forced to resume her normal routine to soon after delivery, their risk of experiencing a PPMD greatly increases.
If you think you may be exhibiting symptoms of a PPMD, Doulas of Austin want’s to reassure you that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You do NOT have to suffer in silence. There is help and treatment available.
The first step in your recovery is to share your concerns with your doctor…right away. PPMD’s are something they should be familiar with, and if they cannot offer you treatment directly, they can refer you out to a local therapist and/or Psychiatrist. In some cases, talk therapy may be enough to get you feeling “normal” again. In other cases, a combination of therapy and medication is necessary.
As mothers, it is natural for us to put our children first. However, during your transition into parenthood it is vital that you take care of yourself as well. Eating healthy foods, getting more sleep, taking time for yourself to emotionally refuel, and advocating for your needs will not only aid in your recovery, but will help you to be the best parent you can be for your little ones in the long run.
Another important step is to identify and if necessary, build your village. The old saying is true – “It takes a village to raise a child”. Unfortunately, in todays world new parents are often geographically separated from their families, and have a very limited support system. Everyone needs help! If you are not lucky enough to be surrounded by people who love and support you locally, seek them out. Whether it is a coworker, a neighbor, or a local mom group, try to create a circle of people around you who you can trust and rely on.
And finally, hire a postpartum doula! At Doulas of Austin, we know how isolating and challenging it can be in the early days of parenting. By investing in our professional postpartum doula support, you will be nurtured, educated, and respected as you recovery from your birth and begin to gain confidence in yourself as a parent.
Motherhood should be enjoyed and your mental health is just as important to tend to as your physical health. With the support of trusted friends, family, and the appropriate professionals, your parenting journey will be less stressful and more enjoyable.
Disclaimer: Please note that any information presented in this blog and/or Doulas of Austin materials and website is never intended to be a substitute for the medical advice of a properly licensed healthcare professional.