Maternal Mental Health
By Sarah Hackett – Student on placement at The Eaves
The arrival of a new baby is a major life event for any family. It can be joyful, exciting, overwhelming and challenging all at once. In addition to the expected ups and downs connected with becoming a parent, many people experience mental health problems, too.
So why talk about this now?
3rd to 8th May 2022 is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week. This is a weeklong campaign dedicated to talking about mental illness while pregnant or after having a baby. It can also be referred to as perinatal mental health. A ‘perinatal’ mental health problem is one that you experience any time from becoming pregnant up to a year after you give birth.
Having a baby is a big life event. It’s natural to experience a range of emotions during pregnancy and after giving birth. But if any difficult feelings start to have a big effect on your day-to-day life, you might be experiencing a perinatal mental health problem.
This may be a new mental health problem, or an episode of a problem you’ve experienced in the past.
Becoming a new parent
There’s no denying it: After you or your partner gives birth, your priorities change. You change. Different issues take precedence at different stages of your life. Life with a newborn is worlds away from the child-free life. Your main concerns prior to having children may change. You may now be thinking about how to stay home or return to work, especially if current financial strains are affecting you. Your most urgent thought after giving birth might be how to do both—work and be an involved parent—or even how to stop work completely. It may not be about work at all but how to exist as a person post becoming a parent, or how to navigate your relationship with not only your new baby but your loved ones too. One thing is for sure. The person you were before becoming pregnant/ having a baby may feel lost, and the person you are now may be unrecognisable to you.
Research tells us that a lot of change happens when we choose to have babies, and that a mother is not the same person they were before having children. Scientific American reported a few years ago that almost all female mammals undergo “fundamental changes” during pregnancy and after birth and that pregnancy and lactation hormones may alter the brain, “increasing the size of the neurons in some regions and producing structural changes in others.”*
According to a report carried out by Health Watch** in Sept 2019,
· One in four women have a mental health problem in pregnancy and during the 24 months after giving birth.
· The most common mental health problems experienced during pregnancy and after birth are anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
· In the UK, maternal suicide is the leading cause of direct deaths occurring within a year after the end of pregnancy.
There are many mental health problems that can occur during or after pregnancy. These include pre and postnatal depression, perinatal OCD, postpartum psychosis and postpartum PTSD, amongst others. And not just for mums – dads’ mental health can suffer too.
Sleep deprivation sends your stress hormones skyrocketing and impairs your ability to think clearly and regulate your emotions.
For some people, that might mean having a little less energy or enthusiasm, or getting upset a little more easily. But for plenty of others, it can be a tipping point toward major depression or an anxiety disorder.
And since we tend to sleep worse when our emotions are in a bad place, you can end up getting hurled into a vicious cycle of poor sleep, feeling bad because you’re sleep deprived, and then not being able to sleep because you feel bad, and the next day feeling even worse. This sleep-depression cycle is possible for anyone who doesn’t get enough shuteye.
But more and more, the evidence is showing that sleep deprivation and lower sleep quality plays a role in the development of postpartum psychiatric disorders — and the worse a new parent’s sleep is, the greater their risk might be.
The situation can easily keep on snowballing from there.
Women with postpartum depression (PPD) sleep about 80 fewer minutes a night compared to those without PPD. Infants of depressed mothers tend to sleep worse themselves— making it even harder for parents to get the sleep they so desperately need.
But, you don’t have to give birth to be at heightened risk for serious mood issues when you have a new-born.
Studies* show that new fathers report just as much sleep disturbance and fatigue as new mothers. And since fathers, or partners who don’t give birth, often (not always) tend to return to work sooner, any chance of sneaking in a short nap during the day ends up going out the window.
No one feels like themselves right after having a baby. Some people don’t feel like themselves for months and months. That’s partly from feeling very, very tired, but it also just comes with the territory of navigating a major life change.
But there’s a point where the typical not-feeling-like-yourself that comes with having a baby morph into something more serious.
What can you do to get help?
If you, or your partner, have had a baby and you’re struggling with your mental health, it may seem difficult to talk openly about how you’re feeling. You might feel:
· pressure to be happy and excited.
· like you have to be on top of everything.
· worried you’re a bad parent if you’re struggling with your mental health.
· worried that someone will take your baby away from you if you are open about how you’re feeling.
But if you are finding things difficult, it is important to know that having these feelings is not your fault. You can ask for help or support if you need it.
If you find yourself feeling very low, or are having thoughts that are difficult to deal with, which you feel are impacting on your day-to-day life, then seek further help.
Here at The Eaves, our professionals see individuals of all ages, families, couples and young people 12 hours a day, Monday to Saturday between 9am and 9pm. Please call 01483 917000 to speak to a member of the referrals team. You can also send us an enquiry directly via our website.