Maternal Mental Health Matters!

In honor of Maternal Mental Health Week, I thought I’d write down some of my musings (rants?) on the subject. I’m an RN in the postpartum unit of a major local hospital, so interact with moms of all types in that fast and furious first 1-3 days (and sometimes longer) from birth. I wrote my Master’s thesis on postpartum depression and the efficacy/importance of prenatal identification for at-risk mamas. I myself am a mom (would be a pretty weird blog name if not, huh?) that has gone through her own pits and valleys with mental health issues, and also spent a few years volunteering on a really excellent phone line for people in crisis related to sexual trauma. What I’m trying to say is that…I feel like I’m qualified to say my little piece on moms and mental health here in Internetland.

I like to qualify myself a little because I run into so, SO much media and culture that has this funny little undercurrent that seems to whisper: “You are not enough”. As a woman, as a new mother, as an experienced one, a young one, an old one…

I don’t like it.

That little undercurrent feels like it’s there to play on the vulnerable mama’s fears. We are all a little unsure of ourselves in the beginning (and even as our littles grow older) and those kind of articles and list-posts I see on Pinterest especially can really ratchet up those feelings. I came upon this ad smack-dab in the middle of an article on 11 month old milestones the other day and was just a little infuriated.

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Do we not have enough to deal with while trying to holistically prepare a precious nest for our littles without some weird internet company trying to capitalize on our small, legitimate insecurities? Even Mayo Clinic (which was and is still a fairly go-to resource for this MomScout) had a little side ad advertising their Mayo Clinic Diet and how much weight I wanted to lose – leave me and my body – pregnant or otherwise – alone, Mayo Clinic advertising bot ppl!

While I was pregnant with Fiona and doing my due diligence by Googling and talking to friends/family/co-workers, reading the pregnancy/delivery/parenting books…I felt like I was doing a good job. But many of those resources just contradicted each other! 

I was left a little nonplussed from the whole information-gathering aspect of preparing to become a mother. There WERE some highlights, such as the book The First Fourty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother which really emphasized focusing on mom and baby in that critical first month (vs. hosting people,  or getting all the right photo ops, etc.) I also could not get enough of the birth stories and practical advice from the venerable Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth. There were a few others, and my midwives were all very open to talking about “the plan” for a very low dose antidepressant for afterwards, but here’s the thing:

I was finding other stuff in my research.

A truly fantastic way to address non-emergent maternal mental health issues is for that beautiful new mama to get together with other moms! The friendliness, the understanding, the companionship, the community – studies show that moms that participate in some kind of activity, formal or otherwise, that gets them together with other moms/parents really, really helps with decreasing risk of mental health issues. I truly loved my new moms group (for free!) at Blooma Yoga here in St. Paul – and it was just an empty room filled with new moms and their little ones, going around a circle and sharing their ups and downs in a safe, calm environment. So empowering and lovely.

Another way is to practice mindfulness, and become calm from within about the pregnancy, the preparation, the major life upheaval it will be regardless of whether it’s first baby or fifth 😉 There are a ton of mindfulness strategies to help harness that qi and I am currently working on a blog post talking about some of my personal faves.

Another overly simplistic-sounding way to address maternal mental health issues is to prevent them – and that means talking about it with your healthcare professional or at least making a plan before you give birth. If you have had issues before, assume that the sea-change that is the hormonal shift upon delivering, or the staggering happiness and fatigue that comes with being anyone’s sole caregiver – nonetheless a tiny, very-demanding human that you care very, VERY much about – will very most likely make these issues…come up.

Some healthcare profs don’t know what to do with a positive prenatal screen for depression risk, and I don’t fault them for it as the training can be minimal, but if you have an inkling you might be at-risk and they don’t bring it up or talk about practical ways to address this very real and normal hazard of childbearing…move on!

Some things you can do if you feel you are at risk, pre OR postnatally:

Anyways. I am glad there is an emphasis on maternal health this week. I unfortunately cannot run in the upcoming Daisy Dash to benefit Minnesota’s Pregnancy and Postpartum Support organization because of a prior family obligation, but will be there in spirit and have donated. Let’s keep the conversation focused on the well-being of mamas and the well-being of their children and families will only follow. Cheers to all you mamas out there, and for the healthcare professionals doing their best to support them holistically!

xoxo, MomScout

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