Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week
MATERNAL MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS
Maternal Mental Health Week is May 3-9, and parents around the globe are campaigning for May 5th to be globally recognized as Maternal Mental Health Day, dedicated to talking about the challenges new parents face when their baby is born. This year the theme for World Maternal Mental Health Day is on ‘recovery’.
Want to help? Sign the petition for official recognition by the UN here
After giving birth to my oldest daughter, Livia, I was as far from that image of a proud, radiant new mom on cloud nine as it is possible to be. I felt like my throat was being squeezed and I couldn’t get any air—like I was slowly drowning. It was as if someone had thrown a huge, dark blanket over me. When I looked at my baby, I was both madly in love with her and filled with terror. What if something happens to her? The anxiety was oppressive and I became more insecure every day. I didn’t know what to do about how I felt and, bit by bit, I lost myself. Eventually I was diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD). Wanting to be the perfect mother had paralyzed me.
The risk of a woman suffering from depression triples in the first month after delivery, compared with childless women of the same age. Fluctuating hormones make mothers more vulnerable to depression, but difficult psychosocial conditions also increase susceptibility. Maternal mental health is important for every new parent to manage, as there’s so many new changes and challenges to move through. Importantly, when symptoms last longer than 2-4 weeks, new mothers should seek professional support immediately.
Some warning signs of poor maternal mental health include: barely being able to concentrate; sleeping badly, even when the baby is asleep; loss of appetite; suicidal thoughts; loss of interest in the world around you and the things that used to bring you pleasure or joy; feeling like everything takes a lot of effort and you want to withdraw; crying a lot and often; feeling incredibly insecure; and experiencing intrusive thoughts.
Prioritizing recovery is an important step in preventing the emotional rollercoaster of new parenthood escalating into a serious mental health issue. But sadly, recovery for new mothers is still very undervalued in today’s world. Most women are expected to be back to work in a short amount of time, and while this varies from country to country, for the most part it’s never enough time for full recovery to take place. When moms go back to work, it’s still likely that their baby is not yet sleeping through the night, some moms might still be breastfeeding, and all moms are still adapting to their new role.
Just because a mom has returned to work, doesn’t mean she’s fully recovered. It takes time for new moms to come to terms with their new role and to get used to the responsibilities of parenthood. While getting used to the weight of these new responsibilities, many moms find themselves constantly switched on and feel mentally, physically, and emotionally overwhelmed by it, which can lead to mental health issues.
Here are some key ways new m0ms, and their communities and workplaces, can prioritize maternal mental health through proper recovery:
Maternity leave should be for at least six months, and take into account that both the mother and father require time to adjust to parenthood.
A society must understand that recovery from giving birth and becoming a parent is not linear. Even if a mom returns to work, it doesn’t mean she has fully recovered. She may still need support.
While physical recovery can happen more quickly, and some mothers do ‘bounce back’, it’s important to recognize that things like hormonal changes and sleep deprivation are on-going and are going to impact a new moms mental wellbeing.
During recovery, mothers should be encouraged to focus on being mindful and moving slow, while being kind to themselves.
New moms need to be given the time and opportunity to embrace what I call ‘the glory of failing’. Meaning, new mums need time to make mistakes and work through them. If their mind is being pulled elsewhere they can become anxious that something bad is going to happen while they’re not focusing. They need to be able to build their confidence and have the space to learn as they go, while be fully present.
Take breaks! It’s okay if you don’t like being a mother all of the time and want to escape for a while. It’s a good thing to do and can keep you mentally healthy.
Lastly, it’s important new moms seek out their ‘mom tribe’. That is, other moms that get it what they’re going through. M0ms need other moms they can speak freely with and share their worries and insecurities to. This tribe can be found within their own personal group of friends, but also online nowadays.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I also think it takes a village to become the mom you want to be. It’s important to recognize that during the early days of motherhood when the focus is primarily on the baby, and we need to give mothers the permission and support to take care of their needs too and prioritize their own mental, physical, and emotional recovery as they prepare to raise the next generation.