Today is World Mental Health Day, and this year’s theme is suicide prevention. We usually aim to keep things positive and empowering here on the Baby2Body blog, but we’d be amiss to not address this important topic, especially in light of the fact that suicide is one of the leading causes of maternal death in most developed countries.
We’re always taken aback by that statistic, too. But sadly, with the increasing rates of maternal mental illness the fact that it’s still a highly-stigmatized condition, we’re not entirely shocked.
What can we do to reduce maternal suicide rates?
Reducing the rate of maternal suicide starts with addressing maternal mental health issues, which currently affect 1 in 5 new and expecting mothers. Of course reducing the prevalence of maternal mental health conditions is a primary goal, but it’s also about improving and increasing the availability of treatment.
With any societal issue, we can make a positive change by increasing awareness, understanding, and action. Organizations like 2020 Mom are working to address this through advocacy and training for insurers, hospitals, and providers. But an important place to start is by increasing our own awareness of maternal mental illnesses so we can better recognize and healthily react to potential warning signs.
What should you be looking out for?
When it comes to your own mental health, understanding the baby blues and how that differs from postpartum depression and anxiety is so important in knowing how to cope effectively.
It’s common to feel down, teary, irritable, or slightly empty in the first few weeks after birth. In fact, these emotions are thought to affect as much as 70% of new moms, and this is what’s been coined as the “baby blues”.
It’s one of those things that gets glossed over when people talk about bringing baby home for the first time, but it’s critical that you know what to expect. Unfortunately, it’s normal to experience these feelings; it’s not technically a diagnosable mental illness and it does not require treatment. But knowing how long the feeling will last and how you can cope in the meantime is important to moving through the baby blues in a healthy way.
Understanding the baby blues
Think about the process you go through with pregnancy and childbirth; you build-up to this momentous occasion over nine months, and then the birth comes with a surge of emotions, hormones, activity, attention, and the long-awaited arrival of your new baby. After that, your body comes down from this incredible high and your hormone levels decline crazy, and all of this can leave you feeling depleted and down. On top of that, you’re probably dealing with back-to-back sleepless nights, which doesn’t help things!
If you’re feeling this way, know that it is a common part of the process and you are not wrong for feeling this way. It’s probably the last thing you expected to feel after the joy of giving birth to your baby – but keep in mind that baby blues do not last forever, and they in no way define how you’re doing as a mother. You’re doing great, by the way.
Baby blues can last anywhere from a few days to the first 4-6 weeks after birth. Typically, the feelings will significantly subside in the first two weeks. So what can you do to work through it? You probably won’t be surprised to hear that these are some of the top recommendations:
- Get good rest (LOL, newborns, we know. But when you can, allow yourself to sleep).
- Maintain a diet rich in protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, and fresh fruits and veggies.
- Daily light exercise (5-10 minute walks around your neighborhood) in those 6 weeks while you’re waiting for full exercise clearance is really important.
- Mindfulness meditation, healing aromatherapy, or journaling can be really therapeutic as well.
- Lastly, one of the best things you can do is let other people know how you’re doing. Talk with your partner or close friends and let them know what’s going on, and make sure to keep those channels of communication open.
When does it become more than the baby blues?
If you are still feeling down and unlike yourself beyond 6 weeks post-birth, it may be time to start the conversation about postnatal depression.
Postnatal (or postpartum) depression is very different from the baby blues, as it is a clinical diagnosis and often requires professional or medical help to work through it. Again though, this is no indication of how you’re doing as a mother. You’re still doing you’re best.
The symptoms of postnatal depression are more pronounced than those of baby blues and usually last longer. Typical signs and symptoms include:
- The constant presence of negative thoughts or feelings
- Anxiety about things that don’t normally bother you
- Insomnia (unable to fall asleep) or Hypersomnia (very extended periods of sleep)
- Finding no pleasure in being with your baby
- Feeling resentment towards your baby
- Avoiding seeing family or friends
- Being extremely irritable, angry and/or tearful
- Strong feelings of guilt
- Lack of appetite
- Low self-esteem and self-worth
- Flat affect
If you’re experiencing any of this, you’re still not alone. Postnatal (and prenatal) depression occurs in 15-20% of women on average, though it affects everyone a bit differently and you may not experience all of the above symptoms.
Keep in mind there are other forms of maternal mental health conditions as well. Prenatal and postnatal anxiety also impacts 15% of new and expecting mothers, and often times coincides with depression. You can read more about the symptoms here. Postpartum psychosis is also a very real — albeit rare — maternal mental health condition. With this, the symptoms are very significant and sudden, often presenting in the first few weeks after birth. If you suspect you or someone you know is suffering from this please reach out for professional help immediately to ensure the safety of everyone in the home.
What to do if you’re experiencing a maternal mental health condition
If you are experiencing several of the above symptoms associated with postpartum anxiety or depression, especially if they have persisted for more than 2 weeks, you’ll want to talk to a healthcare professional or your GP right away.
You deserve to wake up feeling good in the morning, like your best and healthiest self, and you deserve happiness — so if you are not feeling this way on most days, recognize that something is not right. We promise there are resources that can help you and you deserve full and complete access to them.
The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you can be on the path to healing. We know that often times reaching out for help in these situations can come with shame or embarrassment, and we wish we could wash away those feelings away for you. They don’t serve you, and they surely don’t define you.
Remember that your brain is as much a part of your body as every other organ is. If you were suffering from a chest cold, the stomach flu, or aches and pains in your legs – treatment would be your first order of business. If you are struggling to feel like yourself and continue to feel down and depressed – it’s your brain telling you it needs caring for too. Your healthcare provider will be able to talk to you about the best forms of treatment and what your available options are. The first step is always starting the conversation.
For all the moms — or dads — who needed to read this today, we see you and we support you.
If you’re struggling with depression and having suicidal thoughts please contact your nearest suicide prevention center immediately or follow the resources provided at the Mental Health Foundation or Suicide Prevention Lifeline.