We Need To Talk About Maternal Mental Health

It’s World Mental Health Day–and here at Baby2Body, we’re always eager for another opportunity to discuss mental wellbeing. We know that today you’ve probably seen a myriad of posts spreading awareness about the importance of discussing our mental health, and we’re so glad that there are awareness days, weeks, and months like this one that prompt us to take time to reflect.

But let’s pause for a moment and think about how this affects women–and more specifically, women who are (or preparing to become) mothers. Because as much knowledge as awareness days spread, we don’t think this group gets talked about enough… and as you know, it’s kind of our specialty. 

There are plenty of taboos and unspoken topics that overshadow motherhood, and today, we’re going to speak candidly about maternal mental health.

Trigger Warning: This post includes discussion of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

What is mental health?

We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. As much as we likely all know this, it’s important to take a moment to remind ourselves that we all have mental health, and we have to care for it the same way that we care for our bodies. If you’re part of the Baby2Body community of mamas and mamas-to-be, you probably have an interest in exercising and eating well for a strong, healthy body. So let’s make sure we give our mental health as much attention.

So what does it mean to struggle with it?

Struggling with your mental health doesn’t mean you’re weak, and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It means that you’re a human being.

And just like physical health, knowing whether or not you’re technically “struggling” isn’t an easy question, and it does’t have a straightforward answer. Think about your physical health for a moment. What are your strengths, and what are your weaknesses? What ongoing aches and pains do you deal with? You may have little “niggles” or bumps in the road, like a twisted ankle or a tweaked shoulder–and you may have more ongoing, chronic issues like back pain or knee problems.

Think about your mental health like these physical symptoms.

You may struggle for a short period of time, in a more acute manner, like the twisted ankle. Or you may have ongoing backpain that you deal with every single day—this is comparable to living with a chronic mental health struggle like depression.

Because the back pain is tangible, we’re not afraid to talk about it—and I’m sure you know plenty of people who have back pain. You probably know plenty of people with depression, too—but most of them are suffering in silence.

How do we know?

Because statistics don’t lie—and the numbers tell us that worldwide, about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental disorder, primarily depression.

Women as a population are hit particularly hard, and they are twice as likely to develop depression as their male counterparts.

They’re also more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

It’s not a fun topic, and that’s why we need to talk about it. Suicide is one of the leading causes of maternal death in the US and is the leading cause of death in countries such as Japan, the UK, and Ireland. In the world of pregnancy and motherhood, we’re no stranger to talking about the physical risks of pregnancy. But we don’t talk about risk in the form of mental health conditions–and they take the lives of more women than pre-eclampsia, cancer, and delivery-related bleeding.

Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety do not discriminate.

All women can develop mental disorders during pregnancy and in the first year after delivery, but factors like socioeconomic status, race, stress, and pre-existing (or family history of) mental health conditions increase risks. You can learn more in our post about mental health risk factors and inequality.

What should you be looking out for?

One of the most common maternal mental health conditions is postpartum depression–and it can often be chalked up to the “baby blues.” While a drastic change in hormones will lead to mood changes and teariness in most women, it’s important for you (and your friends, family, and partner) to be aware of the signs that this may be something more serious. Signs of postpartum depression 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

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.

You don’t need to be diagnosed to be validated.

Even if you aren’t struggling with a diagnosable condition, you should still be doing your best to take care of your mental health. What you’re feeling is real and valid, even if it’s not diagnosed.

The baby blues is 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, even though it affects about 70% of women. 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. You can learn more here.

Reducing suicide rates starts with each of us.

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.

Help is out there. And the sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you can be on the path to healing. Less than half of women experiencing depression seek treatment–but between 80 and 90% of those that do seek treatment are treated successfully using therapy and/or medication.

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.

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.


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