maternal mental health during pregnancy and postpartum
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Maternal Mental Health During Pregnancy and Postpartum: What You Need to Know

After months or years of trying to conceive, all of a sudden, you are pregnant. You’re a month in, and you’ve already started planning names. Maybe you even have bedroom themes picked out. You envision a successful pregnancy and birth, followed by being a supportive, nurturing parent. Things work out as planned, but you find yourself under a dark cloud of emotions after giving birth. You start experiencing guilt and sadness, unsure of what to do with them.  If you are at that point and reading this, it’s essential to be compassionate and positive toward yourself. Prioritizing maternal mental health during pregnancy and postpartum is crucial to the success of this entire period of your life, with a lasting impact. While those efforts in isolation might not change things overnight, they will undoubtedly increase your chances of pulling out of a nosedive. Moreover, if you walk away from this article with nothing else, at least reminding yourself you are not alone will do wonders for your mental health, now and tomorrow. Not to mention the positive effects you can have on the next generation, your children. 

According to estimates, researchers believe roughly 20% of women will experience mental health conditions, such as anxiety or mood-related disorders, during pregnancy and up to a year after giving birth. The studies also show that getting help isn’t as easy as it should be. Whether it is due to stigma, cost, or lack of awareness.

The figures beg the question – Why is it not more common for the expecting mother to be offered qualified support during pregnancy and after?  

Think you or a loved one might be experiencing anxiety? Check out the signs and symptoms here. 

Potential Barriers to Receiving Treatment For Maternal Mental Health During Pregnancy and Postpartum

The answer to that question is complex, likely involving several significant factors:  

  1. Cost – Not all health insurance plans cover maternal mental health during pregnancy and after childbirth. To receive support from a qualified therapist or medical professional, you pay out of pocket or leverage your health insurance via a copay. For many women, paying for anything other than the essentials during pregnancy and after giving birth is simply out of the question. Any and all disposable income is often directed to cover the basic medical costs during pregnancy and for the child after birth.
  2. Stigma – In the eyes of some, reaching out for mental health support still carries a stigma. “What will my neighbors, family, friends, or even partner think if I reach out for help?” If these thoughts have crossed your mind, you are not alone. This is a normal process of external input taking its course as you process these thoughts internally. It’s what you do with these thoughts that counts. If you find yourself being weighed down with judgment from others, consider the big picture.
  3. Time – Like many women during and after pregnancy, you might not have much free time. Receiving treatment in addition to your daily responsibilities and routines, being an expecting mother and then a parent, and also maintaining a source of income can seem overwhelming. But according to experts, there’s more to it. That’s where accountability comes in.
  4. Accountability – According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Healthcare system is part of the culprit—the fragmented accountability results from dealing with multiple professionals throughout pregnancy and postpartum. And I’m not talking about having too much support; that’s simply not something at a surplus right now. Instead, I’m referring to having a few reliable support partners, maybe your partner in the relationship if that applies, or a sibling or a parent. But what if you don’t feel right reaching out to anyone that close to home? That’s where finding a licensed, qualified Mental Health specialist to retain for the duration of your pregnancy and then some can be one of the best investments you’ve ever made.

Have a minute? Search by Zip Code to find Mental Health treatment near you.

You Are Not Alone

At any given time, several million women are pregnant in the U.S. Keep that in mind whenever you feel like you are alone in your pregnancy. Pregnancy is obviously a significant life event, to say the least. For many women, it is one of the most significant life events. Rightfully so. It culminates with childbirth, but that isn’t the beginning or the end. Becoming pregnant and having a child is a major transition, especially if it’s your first. For the mother-to-be, experiencing everything her body throws at her can feel like an unpredictable roller coaster, which is why you can seemingly never have enough support to ensure sound maternal mental health during pregnancy and postpartum.  

Too often, you hear a story that opens saying the recently deceased tried to seek help, but it was hard to find, or they were afraid of how their loved ones would react in response. These stories are a regular occurrence because the human struggle going on every day is real, but you rarely see the hard times on display.  

If you are experiencing negative or troubling thoughts or feeling off balance, help is available. Go easy on yourself, be understanding, and understand humans are only human. Search online, find a therapist, take a walk or a drive, and schedule a call. Nowadays, you can often schedule a good old-fashioned phone call with a therapist; you only need to go in person once you feel comfortable, or never.  

Why do these challenging mental health conditions sometimes take hold during pregnancy, and what can you do to prevent or mitigate them? 

Maternal Mental Health During Pregnancy And Postpartum

Basics Steps For A Healthy Pregnancy

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the basics steps for a healthy pregnancy are as follows:

  • Do not smoke or drink alcohol
  • Remain physically active
  • Eat healthy and get enough folic acid

These mentions are simply a starting point, albeit a great one.

Why Do Women Experience Mood And Anxiety Disorders During Pregnancy And Postpartum?

Pregnant women and recent new mothers can experience mood and anxiety disorders due to a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. It’s important to note that while many women may experience mood swings or mild depressive symptoms, not all will develop mood or anxiety disorders. Here are some factors contributing to these disorders during pregnancy and postpartum:

  1. Hormonal Changes: Pregnancy and the postpartum period are characterized by significant hormonal fluctuations, especially in estrogen and progesterone. These hormonal changes can impact mood and emotional regulation.
  2. Physical Changes: Pregnancy and childbirth bring about substantial material changes, from weight gain and changes in body image to the physical strain of delivery, all of which can affect a woman’s mental well-being.
  3. Sleep Deprivation: New mothers often experience severe sleep deprivation, which can exacerbate mood disorders and contribute to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  4. Stress: Concerns about the baby’s health, financial pressures, or other personal issues can lead to heightened tension during this period.
  5. Changes in Role and Identity: Becoming a mother can change how a woman perceives herself, potentially leading to struggles with identity and increased stress.
  6. Lack of Social Support: Women without a robust support system or those facing marital or relationship issues can feel isolated, a risk factor for developing mood and anxiety disorders.
  7. Previous Mental Health Issues: Women with a history of depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders may be at an increased risk of experiencing them again during pregnancy or postpartum.
  8. Birth Complications: Traumatic birth experiences, premature delivery, or concerns about the baby’s health can lead to post-traumatic stress symptoms or exacerbate anxiety and depression.
  9. Expectations vs. Reality: The contrast between societal or personal expectations of motherhood and reality can contribute to feelings of inadequacy, disappointment, or guilt.
  10. Breastfeeding Challenges: Difficulties with breastfeeding can lead to feelings of frustration, guilt, and depression.
  11. Thyroid Imbalance: The thyroid gland can sometimes malfunction after childbirth. An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can cause symptoms of depression.
  12. Biological Factors: Some studies suggest that certain women might be predisposed to postpartum depression due to their genes.

You Got This

It’s crucial for women who experience symptoms of mood or anxiety disorders during pregnancy or postpartum to seek professional help. Many women can manage or overcome these challenges with the proper treatment, including therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, or support groups. Maintaining maternal mental health during pregnancy and postpartum is paramount and it is common for a mother to put the needs of others before her own, but it’s okay to ask for help! Additionally, understanding and support from loved ones can be instrumental in aiding recovery.  

Remember, you got this, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t reach out for therapy or support. Everyone needs something to lean on so start building your support network early. If you’re not there yet, start taking baby steps today!

About the author
Jason Klimkowski
Jason Klimkowski enjoys leading our SEO and Content strategy. He credits his comfort in navigating the Digital Marketing space to his spontaneous curiosity and broad industry background. Jason earned his MBA from the University of South Florida and his BBA from the University of North Florida. When not creating content, he enjoys pursuing pelagics, reading about mental health, working inside with ample natural light, and being outdoors.

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