Five ways new moms can protect their mental health
The transition to parenthood is a joyous and celebrated time. But there can be little space for women to be honest about feelings that are less joyous or happy.
“The reality of motherhood is that it is often difficult, scary, new or unknown. It can be isolating because these feelings are not often openly discussed among new mothers,” said Neha Hudepohl, MD. She explained what new mothers can do to protect their mental health.
Recognize the signs of postpartum depression
Up to one in seven mothers experience postpartum depression at some point in the 12 months following the birth of a child. “Many of these women may have had depressive symptoms that began in pregnancy but were attributed to hormones and written off as insignificant or temporary,” said Dr. Hudepohl.
Postpartum depression typically presents with these signs:
- Feelings of sadness
- Loss of energy and motivation
- Changes in appetite
- Lack of concentration and focus
- Inability to sleep when your baby sleeps
- Anxiety and nervous thoughts
- Feeling overwhelmed or unprepared to care for your baby
- Scary thoughts of harm coming to your baby
Dr. Hudepohl said in some cases, these symptoms can be so severe that women feel their families or children would be better off without them. Some even consider killing themselves.
Women with postpartum depression often feel a diminished sense of connection to their baby, and with this often comes an overwhelming amount of guilt at not being a “good” mother. Sometimes, the opposite can happen, and a woman has a hard time letting others hold or care for the baby, often because of anxiety and worry thoughts.
Understand the impact of the pandemic
The pandemic has resulted in social isolation for everyone, including mothers. Community is such an important part of the transition to parenthood, and mothers need the support of friends and family to help care for their children.
“COVID-19 has made it much harder for families and friends to be together or to offer the practical support like visiting to watch a baby so a new mother can catch up on sleep, bringing nutritious food or even just being a helping hand,” said Dr. Hudepohl.
In addition, financial stressors and restrictions for visitation in hospitals at the time of delivery have further created psychological consequences for mothers. Studies have shown an increased risk of post-traumatic stress symptoms, anxiety and fear, as well as depression, in mothers during the pandemic.
Try to sleep
Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest risk factors for women who have just had a baby. Sleep disruption is common for postpartum moms, but it is important for women to work with their partners or other family members to find times of uninterrupted sleep. Sleep restoration can have a preventive effect for postpartum depression and anxiety.
Focus on self-care
Even though it can be difficult, especially when you have a newborn, taking time to recharge and put yourself first is important. Dr. Hudepohl shared these tips for taking care of your mental health:
- Seek support from family and friends
- Accept help from others when possible
- Prioritize self-care:
- Alone time
Know when to reach out for help
Dr. Hudepohl said there are signs to watch for to help you recognize when you need to reach out to a healthcare provider for help with depression or anxiety. They include:
- Feeling persistently sad or down
- Not getting pleasure out of things that normally make you happy
- Feeling anxious all the time
- Feeling as though you are worrying about everything
- Having scary thoughts about yourself or your baby
If you are having any thoughts of wanting to harm yourself or your baby, you should urgently seek care by visiting an emergency room. If you are having other signs of depression or anxiety, talk to a healthcare professional. These feelings are common and treatable.
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