Each year, the month of May is designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. Mother's Day also happens to fall in the middle of the month. Coincidence?
Well, we sure hope not, but now that the holiday has come and gone, it's time for some #RealTalk about motherhood and mental health.
Chances are, we don't need to tell you that being a new mom is not always easy. (Read responses here from the Binto community about what no one ever told us about being a mom.)
But while we all have difficulties, there are certain situations that necessitate taking action. Below, we're diving into three of the most common maternal mental health issues, and what to do if you suspect you might be dealing with one.
1. Postpartum Depression and/or Anxiety
As we've noted before, the baby blues and postpartum depression are two different things. Many new moms experience the "baby blues" following childbirth, as hormones are still in flux. This can include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. The baby blues may last for up to two weeks.
Yet, if you’re still experiencing these symptoms — and especially if they intensify or worsen — beyond the first few weeks, it could be postpartum depression. Postpartum depression should not go untreated because of the impact it has both on the mom and the baby.
The catch: Postpartum depression looks different for everyone, notes Perri Shaw Borish, LCSW, a maternal mental health specialist and founder of Whole Heart Maternal Mental Health. "It's a continuum, and there's not one set of symptoms to be aware of."
For instance, some new moms may not be able to sleep; while others may sleep too much. Some may have a loss of appetite, while others may eat more than normal. (See a full list of possible symptoms here.)
Another thing you might not realize about maternal mental health is that while postpartum depression is the umbrella term, it also includes issues such as postpartum anxiety. In fact, Perri says that she sees more postpartum anxiety in her practice than depression.
Know that postpartum depression may look and feel different for everyone, and if you suspect you're dealing with it, seek help from your doctor and/or a mental health professional as soon as possible. Additional signs that it's time to see a doctor include:
- Signs and symptoms don't fade after two weeks
- Signs and symptoms worsen
- It's hard for you to take care of your baby or complete everyday tasks
- You experience thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
2. Feeling Isolated
While this may not be a mental health diagnosis, all the time spent alone as a new mom can be a serious struggle, and feelings of loneliness and isolation are no joke.
"The logistics of leaving the house can be really difficult for new moms, especially if they're recovering from a difficult birth," Perri says. They might also be afraid for the health of the baby.
Plus, if they're feeling overwhelmed or unsure, new moms may be more likely to just stay home to avoid feeling like they're being judged or assessed.
The number one thing you can do is talk about it, Perri says. "Reach out, take a risk, be vulnerable, and tell someone how you're feeling," she suggests. Part of the problem is that new moms may not feel that connected to their friends, so it's important to work on building a community of women around you who can help and just be there for you.
Or talk to a professional, whether it's a therapist, lactation consultant, or doula — simply sharing how you feel can make a big difference, Perri reminds us.
3. Feeling "Touched Out"
The "touched out" feeling that many new moms experience may be hard to describe, but it's definitely a real thing. Essentially it's a feeling of irritation and discomfort that comes from being touched by loved ones — either your baby, your other children, or your partner.
Think about it: You have a small human literally feeding off you; you might have other children begging for your attention; and then you have your partner who also wants some of your affection. It's enough to drive anyone mad! It can feel like all you want is some alone time, but you just can't manage to find it.
This feeling can also be worsened if you have experienced trauma in your life, Perri notes. The invasiveness of the childbirth process as well as the immediate postpartum period and learning how to breastfeed can all be deeply triggering for those with traumatic experiences in their past.
Preparing for the postpartum period can help with this issue a great deal, Perri says. (If you haven't yet, grab your free copy of our e-book to create your game plan for a better postpartum experience.)
Self-care can also help with feeling "touched out," Perri says. This doesn't mean taking drastic measures like taking a bubble bath or a massage; but rather, it means caring for yourself through the little things like taking a shower, going for a walk around the block, or having a cup of tea.
Self-care also means asking for what you need, Perri notes. Don't be afraid to ask your partner, family members, or friends to help out by doing the dishes or bringing over a meal. Taking these things off your plate can go a long way in helping you get back to feeling like yourself.
The Good News
Perri wants to emphasize that none of these issues will stick around forever — and they will improve with treatment. "You are not your symptoms or your thoughts, and with proper help, you will get better," she says.
Secondly, since celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Serena Williams have been more vocal about their struggles and difficulties as new moms, maternal mental health struggles are starting to become less stigmatized, Perri notes. As more and more people start talking about it, the less alone we'll all feel.