Mental health impacts thousands of Americans, and after more than two years of a pandemic, it's even more top of mind than ever. May is both Mental Health and Maternal Mental Health Awareness month, so we decided to chat with a professional to learn more about how mental health plays a role in motherhood.
We had a chance to connect with Lauren Vollentine, Registered Nurse (RN, BSN) and Maternal Mental health coach (PMH-C certified), to learn more about Maternal Mental Health. She shared her knowledge and advice in our interview below:
What is postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety?
Most mothers experience "baby blues" after childbirth, which can involve bouts of tearfulness, anxiety, or mild sadness, but when those feelings of depression or anxiety persist or intensify beyond those two weeks, it might be postpartum depression or anxiety. A mom experiencing postpartum depression may experience anger, trouble concentrating, guilt, sadness, thoughts of hopelessness, and in extreme cases, thoughts of harming the baby or themselves. A mom experiencing anxiety during pregnancy or postpartum may experience extreme worries or fears, panic attacks, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a feeling of losing control.
How common is it?
According to Postpartum Support International, approximately 15 percent of women experience postpartum depression, and six percent of pregnant women and 10 percent of postpartum women develop anxiety. That's one in seven women, and that's only the reported cases. If you've experienced depression or anxiety, you aren't alone.
How can you tell if someone is experiencing postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety?
Everyone's experience is different. Pay attention if you feel like something isn't right or is off with how you are constantly feeling. It is also important to be aware that other perinatal mood disorders can be experienced in pregnancy or postpartum, such as bipolar mood disorder, PTSD, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, and postpartum psychosis. Some questions to consider that may indicate you (or someone in your life) are experiencing a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder are:
- Are you having consistent struggles completing your everyday activities?
- Do you feel more irritable or angry with the people around you?
- Are you struggling with eating or sleeping?
- Do you feel like you are "out of control"?
- Do you have extreme feelings of sadness or loneliness?
What do you want parents to know about maternal mental health?
It can be scary, but knowledge is power. There's still a big stigma surrounding mental health, especially maternal mental health, making it challenging to ask for help or express that something feels wrong. But you are not alone, and you're never to blame. It's important to remember that it is okay not to feel okay; becoming a parent is a beautiful and exciting time, but it can also be scary and overwhelming.
Whether you experience a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder or not, feelings of mom guilt, comparison, and identity shift can affect your mental health. Taking care of yourself and attending to your mental health needs is not selfish. It's essential.
How can moms take care of their mental health during pregnancy and postpartum?
It really is different for every mom and caregiver. What works for you might not work for someone else, but the key things I've found include:
- Find your village. Build your support system of people that can help, listen, and be there when you need them.
- Consult a professional. Find an experienced counselor or psychiatrist that specializes in pregnant and postpartum women.
- Prioritize self-care. Determine your non-negotiables to take care of yourself and decide what self-care looks like.
- You don't have to do it alone. Remember that it is always okay to ask for help.
What tips do you have for improving everyday mental health? How can moms prioritize this?
My biggest tip is to evaluate the areas of your life taking the biggest toll on your mental health and create an action plan to change them. In addition to finding those areas of opportunity, other things I like to incorporate include:
- Daily movement, hydration, and fresh air
- Limit screen time, especially on social media!
- Practice mindfulness or meditation
- Properly fueling your body
- Spending time with your support system (an uplifting friend, counselor, etc.)
Identify the things that YOU feel most support your mental health and prioritize them in whatever way fits your current stage of motherhood.
How can partners or family members support mothers and caregivers?
It's extremely helpful for spouses, partners, family members, or anyone else who may support a mom or caregiver to educate themselves. It can be difficult for a mom or caregiver to express how they are feeling or that they might need help when they are in the thick of struggling with their mental health. Having an outsider step in and recognize it can be beneficial, and they can bring this to the mom or caregiver's attention to quickly get the help and support they need before symptoms worsen. It’s also valuable to give space for empathy and understanding when a mom is experiencing a mental health struggle. You will then be able to communicate better that it is not their fault for how they are feeling and that there is help available.
Other ways of showing support are just to show up (drop food off at the doorstep, send an encouraging message without expecting a response, offer to watch the baby while mom can get 10 minutes of quiet), support them in the journey of pursuing the mom that they choose to be for their child, be accepting of boundaries, and check in regularly on how they are mentally and physically feeling.
Are there any postpartum mental health resources you'd recommend to moms, caregivers, and families?
Postpartum Support International is my favorite resource for moms, caregivers, and families. They offer educational material on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, free support groups, and an easy way to search for professional help (psychiatrist, counselor, therapist) that are experienced in working with pregnant and postpartum moms. PSI's resources are also available in different languages. Other resources for maternal mental health include 2020 Mom, and Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance. For more local resources available to you, you can also always ask your OB/GYN, midwife, or doula if you are utilizing one. Mental health is just as important as physical help!
Thank you to Lauren for sharing your experience and advice with us and for helping us spread awareness this month and beyond. You can connect with Lauren on Instagram at @offthetrailrn.