Recognising and addressing mental health problems faced by new mothers
They say there’s no joy quite like motherhood, and while that may be the case, it doesn’t mean that giving birth is not without its emotional challenges. In fact, between 10 to 20% of women experience a perinatal mental health problem during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby.
While it’s totally normal to feel the baby blues as a new mother (as many as 8 in 10 mums do!), you should look for further support if your emotions become unmanageable or interfere with your daily life. Common postpartum symptoms experienced within the first few weeks of birth include:
- Mood swings
- Feelings of detachment
If you find yourself dealing with these symptoms during pregnancy or the early stages of motherhood, just remember that you’re not alone and that this tough phase should become easier in time. You can however take a few steps to help you feel more like ‘you’, such as getting as much rest as possible, spending time outside, eating well and asking your loved ones for help when you need a break.
But what happens if these feelings worsen or don’t go away? Experiencing moderate to severe depression during pregnancy or after giving birth is often referred to as perinatal depression and, as Mind reports, could cause you to feel:
- Tearful, upset, or generally low in mood
- Restless, agitated or irritable
- Guilty or worthless
- Empty or numb
- Disinterested in things that previously brought you pleasure
- Low self-esteem
- Hostile or indifferent to your partner or baby
There are several treatment options available for mothers who may be dealing with the difficult effects of perinatal depression. Talk therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) are great for learning effective coping skills and positive behaviours, while medication prescribed by your GP can also help to alleviate your symptoms.
As with any form of depression, it’s important to dedicate time to proper self-care. You can pick up some amazing advice on navigating perinatal depression through meaningful self-care techniques in Maternal Mental Health Alliance’s fantastic workbook here.
Perinatal Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Worrying about your baby is a natural part of motherhood, and something that doesn’t really change as your child gets older! However, if your thoughts become more intense and harder to control, you may be experiencing what’s known as perinatal obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
The Royal College of Psychiatrists report that perinatal OCD affects 2 in 100 women in pregnancy and 2 – 3 in every 100 women in the first year after giving birth. Typical symptoms include:
- Intrusive or disturbing thoughts that you can’t stop thinking about
- Feeling compelled to carry out mental or physical routines, believing they will stop ‘bad things’ from happening
The first step to tackling perinatal OCD is to talk to your midwife or GP, who can advise what treatment would work best for you. From medications like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) to therapy-based support, a number of options are available to help get you back on track and thinking more positively.
Postpartum psychosis is a rare mental health condition that can develop within the first two weeks after giving birth. Affecting around 1 in 1000 mothers, postpartum psychosis should be assessed as soon as possible to aid a successful recovery.
Symptoms can include:
- Hallucinations or delusions
- Manic mood that swings from feeling ‘high’ to feeling depressed, tearful, anxious or agitated
- Low mood
- Behaving ‘out of character’
- Feeling scared or suspicious of people
While this condition might sound scary, most affected mothers are likely to make a full recovery with the right treatment. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms, be sure to seek professional help as soon as possible. You can do this by contacting your GP or health visitor, calling 111 or visiting A&E if you feel like you need urgent assistance. For further support, you can also visit the NHS database to get help and advice from a mental health organisation in your area.
Don’t Suffer in Silence – Help Is Waiting
The most important thing to remember when experiencing any perinatal mental health concern is to reach out when you feel like you need some help. If your employer offers Vivup’s Employee Assistance Programme, we encourage anyone who may be struggling to make contact for professional support, where you’ll find a 24-hour telephone helpline offering responsive, confidential and totally independent advice. Visit vivup.co.uk.