Mental Health And Motherhood: Why Mums Need More Support
There is no doubt that having a baby is one of the most stressful and emotionally taxing life events that one can experience. It is no wonder then, why perinatal mental illnesses affect 10 to 20% of women during pregnancy or in the first year after giving birth.
However, the mental wellbeing of new mothers is often forgotten about in the shadow of the newborn’s arrival. In the excitement over the new addition to the family, it can be easy to neglect the mental and emotional needs of the mother; she may even be neglecting her own needs to support her child. Therefore, it is important to increase awareness of perinatal mental health in order to provide more support for women, including those who might be suffering in silence.
In this blog post, we explore the different perinatal mental health issues that new mothers may face, as well as the causes, how to help, and more.
What Are Perinatal Mental Health Issues?
Perinatal mental health issues can affect women while they are pregnant, or a year to several years after they have had their baby. They relate to the emotional and mental wellbeing of a parent, and can include:
- Antenatal and postnatal depression
- Anxiety states
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Postpartum psychosis
Poor mental health may exist prior to conception and can be made worse during or post-pregnancy, or conditions may arise suddenly at any time. Like any mental health issue, severity can vary from patient to patient and there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. If left untreated, however, these conditions may have a significant impact on the mother, baby and surrounding family.
What Causes Perinatal Mental Health Issues?
There are many reasons why a mental health condition may arise, but in regards to perinatal mental health, the cause of the condition is likely to be linked to factors associated with motherhood. Some causes include:
Previous mental health conditions: If a woman suffered a mental health condition prior to pregnancy, and particularly if she stops her medication in pregnancy, she is at risk of relapse or recurrence of the condition in pregnancy or after delivery
- Hormonal changes: Childbirth is associated with significant hormonal changes which while physiological, may act as a trigger for a relapse or a new episode.
- Living conditions: Having a baby can seriously impact the dynamic of a living situation, especially if the mother is living alone, struggling financially, or lives in poor quality or unsafe housing. Grappling with the prospect of not being able to provide for a baby can significantly increase stress and anxiety levels.
- Trauma: Any kind of traumatic situation, whether it is the possibility of a miscarriage, abuse during or after the pregnancy, or even the trauma of a difficult birth, can cause a mother to experience PTSD. Furthermore, there is a chance of previous trauma surfacing, for example if the mother suffered abuse as a child.
- Low self-esteem: Pregnancy and giving birth takes a toll on the body, causing weight gain, stretch marks, changes to the hair and nails, and other appearance-related issues. Although all women who become pregnant go through changes in their physical image during this time, it can cause low-self esteem, which may in turn decrease sex drive; increase anxiety about leaving the house or inviting friends or family round; trigger depression; and, in some cases, cause body dysmorphia, obsession with exercise or dieting, or an eating disorder.
- Infant loss: Losing a baby can cause unimaginable pain for a parent, whether it is due to miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. Like any human loss, this event can trigger a deep depression, but infant loss can also put a strain on the relationship between the mother and her partner.
Why Women Don’t Seek Help For Perinatal Mental Health
There are many pressures and taboos that plague women regarding having and raising children, but when it comes to mental health, these are even worse. Unfortunately, this causes many mothers to avoid seeking help, which can prolong or worsen the problem. We know that certain mental health issues, if left untreated, can even lead to suicide – and this is no different for new mothers. In fact, suicide is the leading cause of death for women in the first year after birth. Here are just a handful of reasons why women may choose not to seek help:
A mother may feel as if she is being judged by her community for having, or seeking help for, mental health issues as a result of having a child, and so hides these issues as a result. There is a common stigma that a woman’s ability to cope with motherhood is a reflection of how good a mother she may be; however, this is just not the case. A woman can be a good mother with or without a mental health condition, but it is advisable for the wellbeing of both mother and baby to obtain support where possible.
Pressure to maintain image
Women are faced with the ideal image of a mother who can ‘do it all’, which may include taking care of the children, completing domestic tasks and even maintaining a successful career, all the while appearing happy and unphased by the pressure. This image can commonly appear on social media, where the ‘bad parts’ of motherhood are often omitted. A mental health issue does not fit within this idealised image, which means that a mother may choose to keep quiet about her condition so as to make others believe that she is coping well with motherhood.
Fear of not being taken seriously
Some people may be quick to dismiss perinatal mental health issues, especially postnatal depression, as baby blues. However, the two are very different, and this dismissal can cause a new mother to feel embarrassed about sharing her condition in future, whether with a close friend, family member or a medical professional. There may also be a fear of not being believed, or being perceived as attention seeking, which can also be damaging in the long run.
How Can I Help?
If you know a mother who is showing signs of a mental health condition, there are a few things that you could do to help:
- Try to position yourself as a person to confide in
- If you can, offer help with tasks such as babysitting or cleaning
- Learn about perinatal mental health and make her aware of the support available if she requires it
- Offer to spend casual time with her
- Make regular check-ins – even a phone call can lift spirits
Dr Agnieszka Klimowicz, Consultant Psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre, says, ‘Mental health problems around the time of childbirth are not necessarily more common than at any other time in life, but they might be more severe if help is delayed. Of those who seek help for their mental health, only one in five tell their GP, which can delay effective treatment to help get them back on their feet. This worrying statistic tells us that there is still much to be done to end the stigma around perinatal mental health.’
Getting Professional Help For Perinatal Mental Health
Perinatal mental health should not go unaddressed. It is important to seek help right away if you are suffering with the effects of a mental health disorder while pregnant or after pregnancy, or if you suspect that someone you know might be suffering. At The London Psychiatry Centre we offer in-person appointments, as well as telephone or video appointments for those unable to leave their homes. Get in touch with us using the details below: