In this month’s blog I would like to draw some attention to maternal mental health, particular towards the postpartum period, also known as postnatal period.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO): “The postnatal period begins immediately after the birth of the baby and extends up to six weeks (42 days) after birth. “
Did you know that 15 – 20% of women experience significant symptoms of depression and anxiety before and/or after childbirth? In Canada that is 1 in 5 women that suffer from mental health issues after giving childbirth.
So if you know 5 women around you that had a baby (those can be neighbours, teachers, bus drivers, friends or even sisters), chances are that at least one of them suffered from a maternal mental health disorder. Bigger chances are, that you will not know or realize they do as there is a LOT of stigma around this topic and still not enough awareness (which is the reason why I am writing this blog).
Symptoms can appear during pregnancy and the first 12 months after childbirth.
Even though just recently an article appeared on my newsfeed that is called “Postpartum Depression Doesn’t Just End After One Year”. It starts with the words: “…there’s a lot of misconception about when the postpartum period ends. And that misconception leads to confusion and arbitrary rules about when and how moms can get help.”
I would suggest any mom to have a look at this very read, because as many people that suffer from depression (or other mental health disorders) know it doesn’t just magically disappear – especially not just after a certain guideline. Find the article here:
So let’s dive a little deeper into maternal mental health disorders…
There are a few different risk factors to put into account that can increase a women’s risk for suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders :
- Hormonal changes (which every women goes through)
- Situational risks (like major life changes)
- Life stresses (on-going stressful circumstances/pressure – Lack of Social Support, Infant Illness, Marital Difficulties)
- Family history
- Lack of Social Support
- Psychological Trauma (current or history)
*There also has been a study that analyzed that there are five risk factors for depression in new mothers (stress, sleep disturbance, pain, psychological trauma and a history of abuse or trauma) with inflammation as the underlying risk factor – You can find the link in my resource list at the bottom.*
So let’s take another look at Psychological Trauma from Childbirth:
As you can see on this picture from UnfoldYourWings.co.uk alone from childbirth, there can be a lot of trauma involved that may have an impact on a women’s mental health.
What can help with prevention:
- Being Informed (Childbirth classes, books, hiring a doula, preparing a birth plan, preparing a postpartum plan etc.)
- Strong Social Support/Network (they say “it takes a village…”, make sure your village is ready to support you)
- Positive sense of Identity /Cultural Heritage
- Physical Health (exercise, eating well, reduce stress)
- Early Identification and access to support services
- Optimism/Positive Attitude
The different maternal mental disorders are:
- Depression during pregnancy and postpartum
- Anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum
- Pregnancy or postpartum OCD
- Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Bipolar Mood Disorder
- Postpartum Psychosis
I won’t be listing all symptoms of every disorder today, but if you want to take a look you can find them all here:
Here is some more information about Postpartum (baby) Blues and Postpartum Depression as per Postpartum Support International:
Between 50-80% of new mothers may experience Postpartum Blues, also known as Baby Blues. Usually it peaks 4-5 days after childbirth and can last up to 2-3 weeks. The exact cause is unknown, but it is important to know that it can turn into Postpartum Depression if the symptoms last longer than 2-3 weeks.
- Mood swings
- Poor concentration
- Cry easily
15 % of women suffer during and after pregnancy from depression, also called the “smiling depression”. It is the most common complication in childbirth and only temporary and treatable with professional help!
- Feelings of anger or Irritability
- Lack of interest in baby
- Appetite/Sleep Disturbance
- Crying and Sadness
- Feeling of guilt, shame or hopelessness
- Loss of interest, joy or pleasure in things you used to enjoy
- Possible thoughts of harming baby or yourself
*Please note that you don’t have to suffer from all of these symptoms to have postpartum depression or baby blues. If you notice symptoms please contact your health care provider to discuss further. There is no shame in your suffering nor in asking for help.*
Now what can we do to improve your mental health?
Surprisingly, there are few things that you could do to improve your overall mental health:
- Limit stress
- Receiving the proper balance of nutrition
- Natural remedies
- Therapeutic practices
- Encourage Selfcare
Here are some easy tips to get started on limiting stress, these can be things brought into your daily routine:
- Have a daily cup of herbal tea
- Practice 15 minutes of yoga every morning or evening, if you don’t like yoga try to meditate for 15 minutes – you can do it while you wait for your coffee/tea to brew
- Write down what you are grateful for into a journal/notebook
- Remove toxic relationships, people, objects from your life
Balance your nutrients
If you balance your nutrients they can decrease stress and anxiety for you, best is to seek out a Nutritionalist to help you determine what’s best for you and your body.
- Vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and oils, fibre rich foods
- High-Protein and complex carbohydrates to maintain stable blood sugar, as well as B–Vitamins
- Oatmeal, yogurt, almonds, raisins, sunflower seeds.
You can try skipping the following when feeling stressed or anxious:
- Caffeinated beverages
- Fruit juices
- Monosodium glutamate (msg – commonly added to Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups and processed meats)
- Foods that seem to increase anxiety (try keeping track of what you eat)
Take a walk everyday to stay active but give your body enough time to heal. After all it has been stretched, organs have been squished and you might’ve even torn. If you had a belly birth you would’ve even been cut through layers of skin and muscles.
So ensure you take the time to recover, start slow and steady.
Practicing yoga can reduce stress and alleviate anxiety as well as physically help the body prepare for labour and support postpartum. It helps to remove toxins, improve digestion, correct posture, and improve circulation and blood pressure.
Practicing meditation promotes a sense of well-being, and reduces emotional concern. It can be done for 5-10 minutes daily to help reduce fear and anxiety!
Deep breathing promotes emotional well-being and increases endorphins and lower the stress hormone cortisol.
Therapeutic Essential oils can help reduce fear and anxiety. Some practitioners suggest it to be one of the quickest ways to help with anxiety – due to the link between our sense of smell and our limbic system (the emotional centre of our brain). There a many essential oils that are shown to relieve stress, fear and emotional anxiety so it is wise to see an Aromatherapist to help you find the right oils and teach you proper usage etc!
Diffusers are a safer way of using essential oils without the concerns of topical application. Always read the safety and usage instructions before use!
*Diffusers should not be run for long periods of time around infants, and essential oils should always be checked for safety or contraindication – best to ask an Aromatherapist about usage etc.*
Herbal teas and herbal baths are usually safe for pregnancy, labour, and the postpartum period. Also you can create herb sachets that can be carried with you and sniffed when feeling anxiety or overwhelmed. Or like mentioned above add drinking tea to your daily routine
I suggest you to see a Herbalist to provide help with which herbs to use.
Plant in your home or other environments ( such as your work place) can increase your overall health and decrease diseases, as well as enhance your mood and reduce stress and anxiety.
Reflexology treatments can encourage hormonal balance, calmness, reduce stress and anxiety as well as improve sleep and energy levels.
Acupuncture and Acupressure
Acupuncture and acupressure focuses on the meridians of the body and the release of any blockages that prevent the body from a balanced flow of energy.
Art Therapy such as drawing, painting, or taking photos has shown to help express and work through feelings. A systematic review has shown that art therapy helps to reduce anxiety and percentages of other postpartum mood disorders.
A lot of people don’t really know how to practise self-care or just forget to do it, so here are some tips to help you and even look at the postpartum period in a different way!
One important part to remember about self-care is that it won’t look the same for every person. So try to do some things that you enjoyed doing before pregnancy and childbirth can help you feel more like yourself.
- Make a postpartum plan. Who is part of your village/who can you turn to if you need help? Do some meal prep. Be honest about what you need. Prepare for your own bodily and emotional changes (I recommend reading “The fourth trimester” by Kimberly Ann Johnson) etc. Do some research about what is about to happen and what you can expect. Are you overwhelmed? Hire a doula, that is literally what they do and support you with.
- Establish new Routines. Most people expect to fall back into their normal routines before they became parents, but that is not the reality. Now that you are parents try to establish new routines that work for your family.
- Go on a “Phone Strike”. Focus on your little newborn, don’t get distracted or sucked into social media (I am absolutely guilty of getting sucked into social media – sometimes we just need to take a step away from it and life in the now-moment)
- Don’t compare. Did you know that comparison can lead to unhappiness?! Please don’t compare your parenting or child development to someone else’s. Your family does what works best for you and every individual grows at its own speed.
- Practice gratitude and notice positivity. Maybe try a gratitude journal (write in it what you are thankful for and why) or try a jar in which you write on post-its. Draw a post-it when you need a pick-me-up
- Embrace your emotions. Do you need to cry? Let it out! Did you know that tears of emotional release are found to be higher in protein than tears caused by cutting onions, for example. Emotional tears also include endorphins, which help to relieve pain.
- Connect with other mom’s. Don’t underestimate the power of connecting with other mom’s and sharing your successes and struggles.
- Accept the new norm and don’t expect perfections. It can be difficult as a new mother wanting to get back into your old routines, as we pressure ourselves and feel pressured by society into “getting back into our old lives” with a new baby. Except now you have a new life and a baby! It is important to realize that your life has changed.
- Quality time with spouse. They say the first year of having a baby is the hardest so it is important to remember spending some time with your spouse and remember why you fell in love with each other. Take some time, just lay on the bed together and cuddle or have a date together.
- Buy postpartum clothes/ buy yourself something. A lot of times we think about the clothes we will need for our pregnant bodies, but neglect the thought of our bodies after we birthed our babies. We think/ thought that we will fit our pre-pregnancy clothing hours after birth but this is actually not true (maybe for some women but not for most). So buy yourself some new clothes that fit and that make you feel good!
- Pamper yourself. Make yourself feel beautiful with a new haircut, manicure, pedicure or even a massage. Celebrate Parenthood.
- Limit Visits. Too many visitor can be overwhelming for you and baby, especially if you are still getting used to being a parent. Limit visits, your friends and family will understand.
- Hire a Doula. Not wanting to sell myself, but a Doula can help you in many ways! She can arrange for you to have an undisturbed long shower/bath or even let you have that undisturbed coffee that is still hot. She can listen to you and help you process your birth experience and even guide you in infant care to make you feel comfortable and less anxious.
Now let’s be honest, there are plenty of things I could talk about when it has something to do with the well-being of a mother especially after childbirth. What it really has to come down to is that we should raise awareness regarding this topic, remove the stigma and shame that a lot of mother’s feel and simply try our best to support them and check in with them to make sure they are doing okay.
For today I send you on one mission: If you know someone that just recently had a baby, check in with them! Let them tell you about their day and their baby. Truly listen and be present. Maybe announce a visit and bring a warm meal that they can enjoy while you hold the baby.
Because, believe it or not that little thing you are doing can make a difference in a mothers day!
Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642
Healthy Beginning Postpartum Program Leduc: https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/info/facility.aspx?id=3835&service=5808
Suicide Prevention: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.com