May 5th is World Maternal Mental Health Day (and all of May is Maternal Mental Health Month!!), so perhaps while you are enjoying some tacos and potentially a limey beverage I want to encourage folks to take a minute to understand how maternal mental health awareness can support each and every new parent.
When you read the term Maternal Mental Health, what comes to mind? Postpartum Depression, Stress, Sleeplessness? Ding, ding, ding, and so much more. Many have become familiar with the term postpartum depression, but do we really understand what this is? I would love to invite you to gain more understanding for this diagnosis, the complexity of symptoms new parents may experience, and also to identify how as friends, family, and formal supports we can show up for new parents.
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What Exactly is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression presents similarly to major depressive disorder, and it is important to note that the onset of the depression like symptoms occur prior to or after childbirth. Seems simple and straight forward; in reality there are other symptoms which can be experienced pre/postpartum and their common thread is their onset during or after pregnancy. According to theMayo Clinic, the experience of postpartum depression is very common, in fact there are reports of more than 3 million US cases per year. Many child rearing folks who experience postpartum depression may also report experiencing high anxiety, as well as panic attacks. It is important for individuals recognizing these symptoms to access therapeutic support as symptoms may have potential to impact daily functioning, your sense of connection with others, and at times have potential to increase in severity (manic episodes and psychosis).
So, we have all this information on how we can recognize postpartum depression, but the real question is how do we talk about this with our loved ones and more so how do we support a new parent? I began working with female identifying parents in their home, and the most prominent factor I witnessed was their experience of being isolated from social and familial supports. As my practice and understanding has grown, I have come to learn from my amazing clients that sometimes the best way to approach our concerns for their emotional wellbeing is by asking direct questions regarding the parent.Too many times I have focused on how the child is doing developmentally and what they love about parenting, rather than asking what has been difficult while creating a safe space for them to express their stress without guilt or shame. Stress is accepted as being a common experience amongst new parents, yet there is an expectation for new parents to be as equally thrilled about this new role as the people who get to hold the baby for a few hours and buy them cute clothes.Each parent I have met cares for their child, and feels a great amount of responsibility, but also feel as though they are on their own.
Questions to Ask New Parents
As a support to many parents, I have learned initiating help is crucial; ask the new parent:
- Is there anything you are needing?
- How are you doing?
- Is there anything you are wanting to do for yourself?
- Do you feel supported/connected with others?
Wanna go a step further? Provide examples of ways you are able and willing to help.
- Would you like for me to come over and watch the baby so you can take care of other things?
- Is there anything from the grocery store you need?
- If you ever need someone to vent to about the reality of parenting let me know, I am all ears and no judgment.
- Would like a coffee? My treat!
I also recommend if you have a relatable experience to the new parent to share more about how you felt and what you noticed emotionally for yourself to normalize that parenting is at times not a dream come true.
Advice for Mental Health Professionals
If you are a mental health professional and are observing depressive or anxiety like symptoms in your clients who are new parents it is important to name your observation directly:
“I noticed an increase in self-judgement/self-criticism”
“I am hearing that you feel worried about your child’s well-being, and it is impacting your comfort in addressing other tasks.”
“It sounds like you are feeling lonely, or wanting more connection with others.”
It is also important to show unconditional positive regard in the same stroke. Utilizing a strengths focused approach while also identifying resources or strategies to reduce the loneliness, helplessness, and fatigue is crucial.
Gaining Awareness of this Important Topic
Maternal Mental Health awareness is important not just for cis-females, but for anyone in our communities. When we explore what we learned about parenting from our own caregivers, we also gain insight to our own beliefs about self, our own coping strategies, as well as what expectations we might place on ourself when entering parenthood. My hope is that as awareness grows for the experience of postpartum depression more parents may recognize the need for support proactively to feel more confident in their new role, while also feeling more connected to and understood by others.
Resources for New Parents
If you are a new parent and you are recognizing mental health symptoms which were not typical prior to conception, consult your primary care physician or your OB/GYN; many times they have therapists or resources they will refer their patients to which also reduces barriers and steps for new or expecting parents who already have enough on their plate.
In Minnesota: Amma Parenting in Edina, Pregnancy Choices in Apple Valley, and The Red Leaf Center for Family Healing through Hennepin County Medical Center are all supportive resources in accessing parenting groups, classes, and other services which are beneficial for new parents.
Nationally, Postpartum Support International has both resources and certification trainings available.
Postpartum Support International Crisis Line: 1-800-944-4773
Anna King is a licensed clinical social worker in Minnesota and the clinic manager of one the Ellie clinics. Anna has experience supporting individuals aged 10-60, and especially enjoys supporting folks with presenting symptoms associated with anxiety, trauma and stressor related disorders, maternal mental health needs, LGBTQ+ communities, and family systems.
Anna has a dog named Wally and is originally from the northern Chicago suburbs, but rest assured she is not partial to their sports teams; and she enjoys being up north or traveling for self-care.