10 things worth knowing about maternal mental health
MumsAid is a charity organisation providing support for mums and pregnant women with emotional or mental health difficulties in South East London.
To mark maternal mental health month this year, they have shared with us a few points that every new mum should know about.
Let's look at some of them.
1. MMH (Maternal Mental Health) is an issue for every mum - not just a few unlucky ones.
Having a baby is a life-changing event and it isn’t possible for it to be plain sailing all the time. Like all mental health struggles, perinatal mental health may vary from week to week, or month to month, depending on your circumstances. It might also vary from one baby to the next. Some women find being a first-time mum more challenging as they lack confidence, whilst others find the added burden of an older child to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We need to stop pathologising women when they are struggling. It is very normal to find being a mum difficult, but if you find yourself feeling down or anxious for more than a couple of weeks don’t try to keep on coping, talk to someone.
2. Feeling down or depressed doesn’t mean you’re a bad mum.
Maternal ambivalence is a term used to describe a sense of regret or unhappiness with being a mother. Yearning for our old lives and feeling the loss of identity and freedom is very normal and it is possible to feel regrets whilst still loving your baby. Don’t beat yourself up for having these feelings of missing your care-free life, mourning the losses is an important part of fully accepting your new life. Try to find opportunities to focus on you and your needs as well as your baby’s, and say yes to any offers of help that you get so that you can spend some time nurturing yourself, in whatever way works for you.
3. Don’t be scared for your baby.
No one is going to take your baby away because you are struggling with your mental health. Research shows time and again that this is one of the biggest reasons that new mums hide how they are feeling, but seriously, it does not happen. Even for women who experience the most serious form of MMH - puerperal psychosis - there are specialist mother and baby units aimed at keeping mothers and their babies together. Health professionals want to support you to thrive as a mum and get you back on track, so please don’t be frightened of discussing how you feel.
4. Bond or no bond you might still need help.
It’s true that for some women MMH leaves them struggling to feel a maternal bond, particularly if there have been previous losses, such as a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or other bereavement, but for many other new mums, the experience is quite different. For some the bond can feel overwhelming, creating an over concern or an obsession with keeping the baby safe. It is important to know not to dismiss struggling feelings as a new mum just because you have a strong bond with your baby. It is not the only determining factor that might indicate you would benefit from help.
5. MMH isn’t just about depression.
Anxiety, intrusive thoughts and PTSD are also very common mental health issues for new mums. MMH has many guises it is not one homogenous or a one size fits all experience. Also, not everyone struggles immediately. For some it becomes unbearable when they face going back to work after maternity leave. MumsAid offers perinatal support to mums with babies up to the age of 2 years, and such support is about to be made available more widely to those who need it.
6. Anger is a symptom rarely spoken about.
Postnatal feelings of anger are not at all uncommon. These feelings might be caused by the rapid change of hormones in the body and the effect this has on some women - think of the classic PMT symptoms - but it can also be something that happens after a traumatic birth and could be a sign of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). In these cases, specialist therapy can help significantly to process and manage the feelings, so do speak to your GP or health visitor.
7. Isolation is one of the biggest reasons that new mums struggle.
The support of your own mother and partner is particularly important for new mums, and women who are missing either or both of these relationships will find the transition more difficult. For those in this situation, building other social support options is crucial. There are a great variety of networking and support groups for mums offered through places like local children’s centres and you can also get help from voluntary organisations that offer peer support, such as MumsAid or Home-Start.
8. A lack of honesty has spurred unrealistic expectations.
Media portrayals of motherhood that focus purely on the positives are damaging. New mums look for reassurance from other new mums and by unconsciously absorbing unrealistic expectations of mums who have their pre-baby body back as they leave the maternity ward or a 3-week-old baby who sleeps through the night, they are left feeling like they are not measuring up. This isn’t reality and seeing it isn’t good for your self-esteem or your mental health. So, stop the negative self-talk by refusing to look at things that make you feel bad. 100% guaranteed your baby loves you and thinks you are the bee’s knees and that is what matters.
9. The perfect mother is a harmful myth.
Striving to be perfect is bad for you and your baby. Of course, your baby needs you to be responsive but this doesn’t mean that you need to be able to anticipate her every need 5 minutes before she expresses it. Your baby needs a mum who is ‘good enough’ not perfect - this is what helps her to grow and develop resilience.
10. There is always hope.
If you are struggling with your mental health after having a baby please know that it does get better with the right help. There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel, so please tell someone how you are feeling and don’t be afraid to reach out. Your partner, mum or a friend are good places to start and if that doesn’t feel possible try one of the helplines that are there to support perinatal women. APNI or PANDAs or MumsAid.
Learn more about MumsAid mission on their website.