There are many things people tell you about when you are pregnant and postpartum. People prepare you for birthing options. They share their opinions on what to do and wear when pregnant, and they are quick to tell you their favorite baby products. One topic that impacts many moms, but yet often goes unspoken, is maternal mental health. May 5th, 2021 is World Maternal Mental Health Day and the month of May marks Maternal Mental Health Month. This is a day when we pause to recognize the reality of maternal mental health difficulties that impact many women.
2021 Rates of Postpartum Depression and Other Mood Disorders
Pre-pandemic, around 15% of women faced postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, or another perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. Recent global studies reflect that those statistics are notably elevated since the COVID-19 pandemic. More than ever, maternal mental health is an important topic to discuss in our homes, our professional settings, and our communities.
There are a number of factors believed to be impacting the elevated rates. For the general population, mental health rates have increased. The uncertainty, fear, change of schedule and other factors can lead to struggles like anxiety and depression. Specifically for birthing people, things like birth plan changes, undesirable birthing conditions, decreased access to in-person professional support, and less social supports have led to more mental health struggles for women through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.
Why We Need to Talk about Maternal Mental health
The more we talk about difficult topics, the less taboo they are. The less taboo these topics become, the less we feel shame or embarrassment talking about them. When we do this, it makes people feel safer and less judged around these difficult topics. This is why it is so important for us to talk more openly and regularly about maternal mental health. Something that impacts so many families should not be a taboo topic to discuss.
When talking with women during the postpartum period, many share with me that they are afraid to speak up about how they are feeling. Women have told me they feel like their partner, family, or friends will see them as an “unfit” mother. They are afraid of the stigmas that come with living with a mental health disorder. They feel ashamed to not feel “totally in love” with motherhood. When this happens, women suffer in silence. No one should have to suffer in silence. This is why we make it acceptable and normal to talk about maternal mental health so that every mother can be her best with the support and help she needs.
Types of Maternal Mental Health Disorders
Many people are familiar with postpartum depression. However, there are other maternal mental health diagnoses to understand. Postpartum Support International, a leading organization in the education and resources around postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, recognizes 6 types of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
Postpartum depression impacts women in different ways. It is the most known perinatal mood and anxiety disorder and likely the most common.
Signs and symptoms of Postpartum Depression include:
-Feelings of helplessness
-Believing your baby would be better off without you
-Little to no motivation to care for the baby and/or self
-Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
-Inability to sleep Brain fogginess
Postpartum anxiety is another common PMAD. Women experiencing PPA experience heightened feelings and thoughts of anxiety, specifically involving the baby.
Signs and symptoms of PPA include:
-Feelings of fear and/or dread
-Inability to sleep
OCD stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder and it is a more specific form of postpartum anxiety. Those struggling with OCD will often fixate on fear or thought obsessively. This is a reoccurring thought and/or feeling that can cause a mom to avoid activities or interactions and complete specific tasks or rituals over and over, even if the mom knows the fear is unlikely.
Signs and symptoms of Postpartum OCD include:
-Obsessive intrusive thoughts
-Fear of being left alone or trying new things
-Repeating actions or rituals compulsively like the order of doing something, turning things off and on, cleaning more than usual
Postpartum Psychosis is more rare then most other PMADs, but is important to know about. Often, those who experience postpartum psychosis have a family history of psychosis, but this is not always the case. Women experiencing postpartum psychosis experience delusions and interference with thought patterns and rationality.
Signs and symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis:
-Seeing and hearing things that others do not
-Significant mood swings
-Being “out of touch” with reality
Postpartum Bipolar Disorder
Another rare but significant PMAD is postpartum-onset bipolar disorder. Bipolar is often tied to a family history, but not always. Those experiencing postpartum onset bipolar go between a depressed and manic state frequently.
Signs and symptoms of Postpartum Bipolar:
Because a switch between the manic and depressed state marks bipolar disorder, the symptoms of each state can vary.
-Periods of depression, irritability, need for sleep
-Periods of high energy, little sleep, racing thoughts, rapid speech, impulsiveness
Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Postpartum PTSD can be caused by a traumatic event surrounding pregnancy, birth, or postpartum. Women experiencing postpartum PTSD may struggle with revisiting the traumatic event and experiencing, again, the emotional and mental reaction.
Signs and symptoms of Postpartum PTSD:
How to Participate in Maternal Mental Health Day, W and Month
Whether you are a mother yourself or a mother advocate, there are ways you can participate in maternal mental health awareness. One of the best things you can do is to take care of yourself and your needs. When you are well, you are able to support and help others. Secondly, you can share your story if you are a PMAD survivor. Whether it is in a support group, on social media, or in your community, sharing your story helps to remove the stigmas. Third, you can seek out local, national, or international organizations and causes that are working to bring information and help to moms.
If you know or believe you are struggling with a maternal mental health disorder, reach out to your medical provider and a trusted friend. We all need extra help sometimes, and there is no shame in that.