If you’ve had a baby, you are probably familiar with your doctor asking questions about sadness, loss of interest and other things that involve your mood or state of mind. I assumed they were looking for one thing – Postpartum Depression. But, I am learning that there are a myriad of emotions that a mother deals with postpartum (in pregnancy, as well) and there are other perinatal disorders, aside from PPD. Though I dealt with the “myriad of emotions”, I did not have a perinatal disorder. However, I think it is so important that we – as mothers, sisters, friends – are informed on this subject.
In recent months, I have had the privilege of virtually crossing paths with Rachel Bowers from Mentoring4Moms. Rachel is a professional counselor who currently blogs about health and wellness for moms while staying home with her son. Her passion for educating women on this subject and offering help and support is evident.
I have invited Rachel to do a Real Moms Talk Interview for us and she so graciously accepted. I cannot express enough that this is a must read! If not for yourself, this information can help someone else.
On to the interview…
What is Maternal Mental Health? I believe that maternal mental health refers to the broad array of emotional and psychological issues women face in the transition to motherhood. This can range from adjusting to the new roles that one gains when they become a mom, creating a maternal identity while coping with the changes or losses of their previous identity, Maternal Mental Health can also refer to Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADS) which include postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, and postpartum psychosis. Mothers can also have unique experiences when coping with posttraumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder during transition to motherhood.
How did you get interested in this topic? Before becoming a mother I was a child and family therapist. After entering motherhood my issues with anxiety became overwhelming and I spent most of my day experiencing distressing thoughts and being consumed with worry. I became interested in understanding maternal mental health and began blogging about it and obtained my certification in maternal mental health from Postpartum Support International.
What are some symptoms that a woman should look for regarding Maternal Mental Health? The most important symptoms to pay attention to are if you feel you have distressing thoughts of harming yourself, your child, or someone else. Other symptoms that are important to pay attention to are heightened irritability, intense anxiety, intense mood swings, constant worry about the safety of your baby, .highly distressing intrusive thoughts or images, and overwhelming guilt or shame. Some of these symptoms may be experienced due to normal emotional adjustments to motherhood or the baby blue but it is important to evaluate the impact these symptoms have on your daily functioning. If any of these symptoms impact your ability to care for yourself or your child or experience a healthy quality of life it is important to seek professional help. Symptoms of postpartum psychosis are also symptoms to seek immediate help for and these symptoms seeing or hearing something that isn’t there (hallucinations), false or irrational beliefs (delusions) and confusion/disorientation.
How soon or how long after having a baby can symptoms show up? It is actually a common misconception that symptoms only come after pregnancy but symptoms can actually occur during pregnancy, soon after delivery, or even up to a year postpartum (this whole period of time is referred to as the perinatal period). Many women also have symptoms during this time but often don’t realize that they are struggling with these issues until years later so it is possible to still seek help and treatment after a year postpartum. It is also important to know that these symptoms can also exist in mothers that experience miscarriages.
What are some common misconceptions about Maternal Mental Health? A major misconception is that serious symptoms of PMADs are just the “baby blues” and will go away on their own. However, symptoms of the baby blues should only last a few weeks and symptoms lasting longer than that should be a cause for concern. Also, I think a lot of mothers fear talking about their symptoms will lead to others thinking they are not capable of caring for their children. However, mental health professionals are aware that many times symptoms of PMADs do not pose a serious risk of harm to the child.
What advice would you give a woman who is experiencing some of the symptoms mentioned? I think the first important step is talking to someone you trust about your issues. Opening up and being vulnerable is the first important step in reducing any shame you may feel about your symptoms. And it is so important to remember- you are NOT alone and there is NO shame in asking for help. It is a brave and very maternal thing to do to take care of yourself so you can take care of your child(ren). A solid support network is a major indicator in the recovery of moms with maternal mental health issues. The second step is seeking the services of a professional to provide you additional support whether this is through your obstetrician, general practitioner, or mental health professional.
What advice would you give a woman who has received a diagnosis? I would recommend finding a mental health professional (psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or social worker) that specializes in maternal mental health. It’s also important that you feel comfortable with your therapist and that your therapist communicates with your a course of treatment so that you understand what is involved in therapy from the beginning. I would also tap into two organizations that provide a lot of additional information and peer support for maternal mental health issues (Postpartum Support International- postpartum.net & Postpartum Progress- postpartumprogress.com) You can visit the link provided above to learn more about seeking treatment for maternal mental health issues.
More About Rachel
Rachel Bowers is a social worker with 8 years of experience as a mental health therapist. While currently staying at home with her 2 year old son she is obtaining her certification in maternal mental health from Postpartum International. Rachel blogs about emotional wellness for moms. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her other work fullmotherhood.com.