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Why does maternal mental health matter?

By Teddie Buchner (she/her), Adult & Pediatric Occupational Therapist

It is common for women to notice changes in their mental health during pregnancy or any time within the first year after delivery. The importance of maternal mental health and the challenges that a diagnosis of postpartum mood disorder (PPMD)  brings to a new mother-baby dyad are well documented in the healthcare field.  Less understood, is the occurrence of PTSD, OCD, and bipolar disorder in new mothers. 

These can all significantly impact your ability to adjust to your new role of being a new mother or of being a new mother again!

Why does maternal mental health matter? | West End Mamas

What about the “baby blues”?

Research suggests that close to 80% of new mothers have some form of the “Baby Blues,” which should resolve within about two weeks after onset. Baby Blues are common, but one of the main differences between the Baby Blues and PPMD is that we expect the Baby Blues to resolve quickly.  The feelings of overwhelm, upset, etc. that accompany new motherhood are normal, and to be expected, and for most mothers, they pass within a few weeks as they adjust to life with a newborn.  

However, 1 in 7 mothers experience serious depression or anxiety, and 1 out of every 1000 mothers experience postpartum psychosis. 

Did you know… about 50% fathers and partners of a mother with postpartum mental health challenges are also clinically depressed. Unfortunately, there is an abundance of guilt and embarrassment about the feelings that come with depression, anxiety, and other mental health complications after giving birth.

Aside from the risk to the mother’s health and well-being, through her engagement in co-occupations with her child, maternal mental health also affects her ability to bond and influences her attachment patterns with her baby. This can set up lifelong challenges for the mother and child, if they are not addressed early.

What are some of the symptoms of Postpartum Mood Disorder?

Maternal mental health challenges are more than just the “baby blues” — it’s not always about being sad.  

Common symptoms of pre/peri/post-natal mental health issues include:

  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Exhaustion
  • Nervousness
  • Feeling on edge
  • Difficulty sleeping even when your baby is asleep
  • Lack of appetite
  • Feeling out of control
  • Intrusive, scary thoughts that don’t go away
  • Feeling insecure about being alone with your baby
  • Thoughts of harming your baby that are distressing and upsetting to you

Am I at Risk?

Consider some risk factors for developing a mental health disorder related to pregnancy or delivery.

  • Do you have a hard time asking for help?
  • Do you have a history of mental health diagnoses like anxiety or depression?
  •  Are you pregnant and feeling anxious or depressed?
  • Do you often feel unusually anxious, tired, angry, or irritable before your periods?
  • Do you have a family (mother, sister, grandmother, aunt) history of postnatal maternal mental health disorders?
  •  Are you geographically far from your family and friends?
  • Was this an unplanned pregnancy that you are struggling to adjust to?
  • Do you have access to safe housing, adequate food, and good medical care?
  • Does your mind race with multiple ideas?  Do you usually get very little sleep?
  •  Have you had a traumatic life experience in the past? 
  • Are you experiencing or have you experienced multiple life changes in the past few months?

Even if you experience only 2 or 3 of these symptoms, you may be at increased risk for developing a mental health disorder during pregnancy or postpartum.  

Your mental health is important.

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What are maternal/Infant co-occupations?

Mothers engage in multiple activities with their babies daily.  It is important to consider the mother engaging in these activities with her child and not to simply view the infant as passively receiving careCo-occupations are shared activities in which the engagement of each member influences the engagement and satisfaction of the other.  It is this shared experience that feeds the cycle of reciprocal maternal-infant responses and promotes or impedes bonding and healthy attachment patterns.  

Typical maternal-infant co-occupations can include feeding, soothing, rocking, snuggling, playing, reading, dressing, and diaper changing. During these co-occupations, the mother and her baby respond to each other via eye contact, tone of vocalization, facial expression, and emotional regulation.  The infant is attuned to the emotional state of their mother and mirrors that using their mother as a cue for their own emotional regulation.  

This is why maternal mental health matters!

Again, you are NOT ALONE – THERE IS HELP!

Treatment Options

At West End Mamas we have licensed psychotherapists and counselors that can provide additional support as you navigate this new role and address your mental health.

An occupational therapist will not directly treat your mental illness, but don’t underestimate the value of an experienced, empathetic listening ear.  What the occupational therapist will do is talk with you about the difficulties you are having transitioning to your new role as a mother and work with you to provide effective routines, habits, education, and coping strategies that can help you and your baby enjoy your time together and begin to thrive. 

Maternal mental health is so critical in the transition to motherhood and we can support you during pregnancy, after delivery, and beyond as you continue your journey as a new mother.


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