5 Expert Tips for Navigating Your Maternal Mental Wellness as a New Parent
By the time you hit adulthood, it’s standard to constantly see pictures of happy babies and toddlers flooding your social media feed at all hours of the day. And they are CUTE! What we don’t always think about, though, is that behind those adorable toothless smiles are likely very tired mothers — and some of them may even be suffering quietly behind the scenes. That’s where checking in on a mother’s maternal mental wellness comes in, which is defined as “a state of well-being in which a mother realizes her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her community.”
For instance, one in eight moms experience symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD), which is a debilitating condition characterized by sadness, serious concerns about the baby, anxiety, hurtful thoughts, disinterest, and more. Additionally, moms that don’t experience PPD are still at risk for a roller coaster of emotions known as the ‘baby blues,’ due to a significant shift in hormone levels, sleep deprivation, and feeling overwhelmed.
When the most joyous occasion of your life turns out to be a mixed bag of emotions including fear, it’s normal to feel confused and even a little bit scared. To help all new and expecting mothers cope with the highs and lows of parenthood—especially during those first 12 weeks after the baby is born, which is also known as the fourth trimester—we got two clinical psychologists who specialize in women’s health to give us five expert tips for navigating maternal mental wellness.
1. Know That What You’re Feeling Is Normal
Whether you’re feeling mildly overwhelmed or have a serious case of PPD, you should know that what you’re feeling is not uncommon.
“It’s helpful to know that up to 80% of all new mothers will experience the ‘baby blues’ after the birth of their children,” says Layne Prosperi Raskin, a psychologist who specializes in maternal mental health and the founder of Everyday Parenting Psychology. “At one moment, a woman is pregnant, and the next, she must care for her baby in brand new ways outside of the womb. Given the significance and intensity of these events, it’s totally normal for moms to cry, to feel overwhelmed, completely drained of energy and to experience anxiety and lack of confidence.”
Both the ‘baby blues’ and PPD fall under the umbrella term ‘Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs)’, Raskin explains. What differentiates the two, she says, is the frequency, intensity, and duration of these symptoms, as well as how these symptoms interfere with a mom’s overall functioning and her ability to care for her baby. In addition to symptoms of PPD being more frequent and intense, fleeting, scary thoughts — including harming your baby — are also reported.
Processing these feelings isn’t easy, so remind yourself that you are not alone — and that resources are available to help you get through this difficult time including a new program sponsored by Sage Therapeutics, Inc. called Check on Mom (more on that in a bit).
The Check on Mom Program does not replace the advice from a healthcare professional. If you are concerned about PPD, speak to your healthcare provider immediately.
2. Ask for Help
Research shows that a lack of support can be associated with PPD. If you do suspect that you’re experiencing feelings that fall under PMAD, it’s important to ask for help, says Dr. Shara Marrero Brofman, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of depression, anxiety, stress, and mood and relationship concerns. This can include asking family members, friends, and your partner, as well as seeking online and community resources.
Brofman encourages women to think outside the box about what ‘help’ means, and to start the process of asking for help well before the baby is born. This could include aid with childcare, meals during the fourth trimester (or the first three months of your baby’s life), household duties, and emotional support.
Check on Mom — a new resource to help prepare and provide support for new and expectant moms — makes it easy to assemble a mom team of three to five people you trust that can help you prioritize your mental health during the fourth trimester. After assigning your mom team, you and your team will get resources, tips, and inspirational content delivered via email and text so you can hold each other accountable, whether that’s them checking in on you, or you asking them for help, throughout the postpartum period.
3. Seek Out Resources
Experiencing PPD can feel isolating, but one of the most important things you can do is seek out resources that can help you and your loved ones learn about your condition. Raskin recommends resources like Postpartum Support International (PSI) and Postpartum Stress Center (PPSC), which offer substantial information that’s not only useful for moms, but for their partners, family, and friends.
Check on Mom is a helpful resource for any new mothers, and anyone who loves them and wants to support them. The program makes it easy to find resources and educational materials from trusted sources covering things like maternal mental wellness and postpartum depression. For those who sign up, the platform will send you periodic tips and inspirational content via text and email to help you along your new journey of motherhood. Perhaps one of the important things about Check on Mom is that it helps you and your loved ones familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of PPD so you can recognize them at the onset, and call on your doctor for help.
4. Come Up With A Plan
Expectant parents often think about how much care the baby will need, but not the care that they themselves will need, says Brofman.
Raskin recommends taking the time to review household tasks before the baby arrives, and encourages women to discuss with their partners how responsibilities will be reassigned once the baby is born. She advises to plan during pregnancy what meal prep will look like immediately after the birth and throughout the postpartum stage. That, and she also encourages women to have a discussion about the ‘mental load’ of having a baby with their partners and families.
“I often encourage partners to create two preparation lists [before the baby is born]: one that itemizes practical tasks, and another that identifies potential ‘mental load’ items,” Raskin says. “When these responsibilities are named and categorized, there’s a better likelihood that they will be more easily managed by both parents. When parents don’t discuss them explicitly, expectations likely differ from reality, often resulting in frustration and disappointment.”
5. Find A Support Group
“Being a new mom can be isolating and overwhelming, so having a safe and non-judgmental environment to share thoughts, feelings, worries, and experiences that can be normalized and validated can be incredibly helpful,” says Raskin. “Support groups for expecting and new moms can provide wonderful opportunities to connect with other new moms while receiving support and psycho-education, while often minimizing feelings of loneliness and isolation.”
Check on Mom provides resources to help find local support groups, or even create your own mom team that can support you throughout the fourth trimester. It also includes a Maternal Mental Wellness Plan, which is designed to help mom keep a log of her postpartum priorities and activate her mom team. Just knowing that a solid team is behind you can be reassuring, and an additional weight off your shoulders.
Whatever you’re feeling immediately and in the months after giving birth, know that the new responsibilities of motherhood can affect everyone differently. Text “checkonmom” at 63031 or visit mycheckonmom.com for helpful resources and a daily reminder that you’re not going through this alone!