May is Maternal Mental Health Month, so HuffPost Parenting and Wellness are shining a light on postpartum well-being. From how new moms handle those early days as parents while struggling with their own mental health to how to be there for friends and family, we’ve created a space for moms and their loved ones to feel seen and heard in those first trying months of parenthood. See the full series here.
If you’ve recently had a baby, you likely did a lot of prep work before they arrived. Maybe that meant reading sleep training books until your eyes glazed over, baby proofing every inch of your house or eating a specific diet. But if getting ready for life with a baby didn’t include checking in on your mental health ― or even if it did ― you may be having a hard time coping with so much change.
“Women can get so wrapped up in the health of the baby and pregnancy that sometimes they forget to take care of their mental health with it,” said Sarah Getch, program director of the health services psychology department at Kansas City University. “Some of that can be physical, such as getting enough sleep and eating the right foods, but there are other pieces to mental health, like having a support system, that are really important.”
It can be difficult to take time to focus on yourself, but doing so will only help you be a better parent, said Crystal Clark, president of the International Marcé Society for Perinatal Mental Health of North America and associate professor of psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
“A mother’s health, both physical and mental, directly impacts the health of their child,” Clark told HuffPost. “If a mother is having mental health issues, this can affect their bond with their baby and have long-lasting effects on the baby’s ability to self-soothe and their overall temperament.”
Here are some postpartum resources to help you find relief from difficult thoughts or worries, as well as tools you can use to feel more like yourself as quickly as possible:
“If you’re not feeling like yourself after you’ve given birth, it’s vital to let your OB-GYN or primary care physician know,” said Sarah Kauffman, director of the maternal mental health program at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, California. “It can be hard to acknowledge when a woman is struggling with mood symptoms in the postpartum period, as it can be unexpected and feel shameful to discuss. I normalize to families that 20% to 40% of new parents struggle with mental health concerns, and that was prior to COVID.”
Most new parents see their OB-GYN about six weeks after birth, but don’t hesitate to reach out before then. And if those baby blues seem to linger around long after you’ve already seen your own health care provider, you can also mention how you’re feeling to your pediatrician (since you’ll see them every month for the first six months anyway). They’ll have resources and materials that may help.
“It can be hard to acknowledge when a woman is struggling with mood symptoms in the postpartum period, as it can be unexpected and feel shameful to discuss.”
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Whether you have a strong support system at home or not, therapy can be an essential tool for combating depression, including postpartum depression.
“This type of therapy will ask you to examine any negative thoughts that are coming in and determine if they have any legitimacy, while helping you collect evidence against them,” Getch said. “It teaches you how to recognize and reframe negative thoughts to a more accurate narrative.”
To find a therapist, reach out to your insurance provider to see if it has a list of in-network therapists. You can also reach out to your primary care physician for a referral. Or if the thought of leaving the house to get therapy is enough to exhaust you even more than you already are, ask your therapist if they accommodate virtual visits, as many now do because of the pandemic. Other more affordable options can be found here.
New parents can find educational tools, access to support groups and local resources through Postpartum Support International, Kauffman said. They can call or text the organization’s help line, 1-800-944-4773, for immediate support.
Clark stressed the importance of finding a support group of moms who may be experiencing the same types of feelings and issues.
“It’s also an opportunity to learn from one another and ease those feelings of isolation,” she added. Check with your local hospital for both in-person and virtual group options in your area. PSI also offers virtual group sessions for all parents.
Getch recommended the digital resources from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as well as the National Alliance on Mental Illness. You can find behavioral health providers in your area, support groups and online discussion groups.
“It’s OK to need ― and ask for ― help, especially from supportive family, friends or your partner.”
A number of books may help ease anxieties in new mothers, said Sabrina Romanoff, a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
She recommended the book “Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts,” which is written for clinicians but explains why these postpartum negative thoughts are present and what can be done about them.
“The second book I recommend in my practice is, ’What No One Tells You: A Guide to Your Emotions from Pregnancy to Motherhood,’” she said. “It presents an honest picture about the difficulties of motherhood that are less commonly spoken about.”
Your Loved Ones
Even with all the above resources, don’t forget to tell your friends and family what you need to feel less frazzled and alleviate the stress that comes with having a newborn.
“Too often, women don’t want to impose,” Clark said. “They may feel like it’s a weakness or they will be judged for needing help. But it’s OK to need ― and ask for ― help, especially from supportive family, friends or your partner.”
Be specific about what you need, such as dinner or someone to hold the baby so you can take a shower or go for a short walk alone. You may be surprised by how much support you already have, and hopefully you’ll feel less like you have to handle everything by yourself.