Maternal Mental Health Matters
The emotional range of Motherhood
We’re often told the same story. That becoming a parent will be life-changing, we will never have known love like it and it will be the best time of our life. Allow it. It is sometimes true. But it is only half the story. The often-shared glorified motherhood stories (the fairy tale birth, the perfect mother) lead to the silencing of the other half and the expectation-reality gap so many people experience. “I didn’t think it would be like this” is something I’ve often heard. Perhaps our birth was not what we planned, perhaps feeding was difficult, maybe our partner was not hugely supportive, or perhaps being home with a baby isn’t as fulfilling as we imagined. But we don’t see this as part of the natural parenthood transition, we tend to feel like we failed somehow.
We all have emotional range. It is usual to feel all kinds of things when pregnant: excited, terrified, ambivalent, connected, detached. After birth we can feel anything on the spectrum: love, protectiveness, disappointment or indifference. Ecstasy, happiness, meh, loss for our old life, trapped, anxious, afraid to connect, distant, guilty, grateful or just overwhelmed. Our experience can be more than one thing; looking after a baby can be stressful AND rewarding, we can love our children AND wish for our old life sometimes. It’s challenging constantly meeting the physical needs and emotionally-regulating a small person day after day. We are allowed emotional range.
Pregnancy and postnatal (the perinatal period) is the time we are MOST likely to experience mental health problems (and least likely to seek help). If we only knew in those dark hours, how many other people were in the same boat (20 % OF US) we would feel normalised.
So what’s normal and what’s not?
Just to give an idea of how many of us struggle in the perinatal period:
– 13% experience postnatal depression
– 15% experience antenatal depression
– 6% of us get PTSD from giving birth
– 15% of us have anxiety
– 7.5% have an eating disorder
– 3% have OCD –
15-30% of find adjusting to parenthood difficult and distressing.
Not everyone is loving every minute, regardless of what their social media may say.
Most of us (80%) experience the baby blues (feeling overwhelmed, crying easily) after birth. This is normal and goes away by day 10 without treatment. If its past this time and you also feel things like sadness, fatigue, guilt, hopelessness, anger this may be depression creeping in. Similarly, most parents experience SOME anxious or intrusive thoughts ‘what if I drop the baby on it’s head?’ this is normal and a response to our new responsibility. If we get a LOT of intrusive thoughts or they cause a lot of distress this may be a sign of anxiety.
Symptoms you should never ignore include: feeling suicidal, like you want to run away or harm yourself or your baby. Speak to professionals straight away- it may not feel like it, but someone can help. Hearing voices, seeing things, unusual ideas, acting bizarrely, appearing ‘high’ or confused soon after birth – this could be postpartum psychosis – seek help immediately (the same day).
Bonding may be instant for some and take time for others, that’s normal. It is a process of getting to know one another and feeling connected. If bonding is still an issue 3months after birth seek support, lots of places can support parent-infant bonding work (perinatal teams, parent-infant foundation, Anna Freud @afnccf) in addition to health visitors.
Talk to others – friends, your partner, professionals. We will all feel different things and we do each other a disservice by not talking about it.
We share this post during Maternity Mental Health Week. A cause close to our hearts. We have supported many families requiring additional mental health support and we know the difference that skilled Breastfeeding and sleep support can make in this respect.
‘Maternal Mental Health Week is a week-long campaign dedicated to talking about mental health problems during and after pregnancy. It’s about raising public and professional awareness of perinatal mental health problems, advocating for women affected by it, changing attitudes and helping families access the information, care & support they need to recover’ – Maternity Mental Health Alliance – http://maternalmentalhealthalliance.org/