The Importance of Maternal Mental Health

Maternal mental health impacts us all, and can affect every relationship we have along side our physical, and emotional well being.

No matter who you are, a mother, sister, daughter, friend, or any other role you may play in life. The relationship with yourself is the only one you can never get away from.

Living with a mental dysfunction is a lot like being trapped in your own brain, unable to escape, and constantly being abused.

At it’s mildest maternal mental health dysfunction can be something like reoccurring worry, or high levels of stress. At it’s most severe it can lead to permanent and lasting physical damage or even death.

Though the extreme is rare it does happen, and those left to live with the consequences may never fully understand it.

How Mental Health Impacts Physical Health

The World Health Organization states that

the mother with depression suffers a lot and may fail to adequately eat, bathe or care for herself in other ways. This may increase the risks of ill health.

World Health Organization

After we give birth we need time and care to physically recover. Not just from the birth but from the work of creating a human over the previous 9 months.

And pregnancy and birth take a lot out of our bodies. So it’s important to let it rest and heal up while providing good nutrition among other things.

If however, we are suffering from something like Postpartum Depression, or Postpartum Anxiety. We may not feel the drive to eat, or we may be pushed to eat too much.

It’s also possible that we are not driven to to wash our bodies well enough to be clean. This can lead to things like rashes and skin infections.

Infections that get into our womb can be dangerous, that why our care providers like to check that our uterus is shrinking back down so soon after birth.

Or maybe we go the opposite route and try to do too much right away, and strain and stress our bodies into an injury. So not only are we now looking after us and baby, but having to work around and rehab an injury too!

And this isn’t even a comprehensive list, our mental health can drive us in directions we normally wouldn’t go physically. And our body will do everything it can to keep up, until it can’t any more.

The Impact on our Emotional Health

This one can be hard to separate, mental and emotional health are often interlinked so closely we can’t tell the difference.

But the easiest way I’ve found is to ask myself if I’m thinking with my head or my body. Feelings are always felt in some way in the body not just as emotions.

Anyway, if you are thinking negatively about how you are handling the transition to motherhood chances are you can also feel it in your body. Especially in pregnancy or early weeks after birth when hormones are being dumped into your body at a high rate.

Stressed out Mom trying to feed a crying baby in a high chair. Worrying or stressing about baby can impact our maternal mental health.

Most of us will experience a hormonal mood swing at some point during pregnancy. All of us will experience them in the first couple of weeks postpartum.

Belive it or not IT’S NORMAL!

I hate that word, “normal” sounds like a cop out to me most of the time.

But in this case it’s common, mood swings due to hormones are common.

That’s why all helpful care providers remind you of the “baby blues” that happen postpartum.

It’s your hormones trying to balance out, and it causes lots of the feels.

But hormones are kinda like getting drunk, they amplify what is already there. Let me explain what I mean a bit and I’m going to use giving birth as the example cause there are a lot of hormones involved so it’s easier to notice.

During birth, there is a moment when a woman feels like she just can’t do this anymore. She feels ready to give up, it’s called “transition” and a good care provider knows it means baby is coming shortly.

To understand what happens during transition better read up on The Stages of Labor

But that moment is when your body dumps a specific mix of hormones into your system to get all the stuff loosened up and ready to push out baby.

If you are birthing Vaginally at this point you are prepping for a Fetal Eject Reflex and OMG does THAT ever feel good when it happens (I’ve done it twice, if you can wait for that).

To say the least it’s an emotional moment, but that feeling, or that need to give up is so intense for some and less so for others. Why?

Because some of us are in a different head space than others.

And there really isn’t a wrong headspace to be in (let’s get that cleared up right now ok?) but after having been there twice myself I can tell you that how your mind is framing the experience does affect how intensely you feel it.

It also can impact your view on how the birth went and THAT can change how you experience your maternal mental health.

Woman giving birth with her mouth open in a scream, while a medical professional and dad stand between her legs watching.

I’ve done one experience where I was mentally freaked, and another where I was on top of the world. Can you guess which one I was cracking jokes for?

All that to say your maternal mental health, and Mindset affects how your emotions feel in the moment.

the Impact on Baby…

Ok, we don’t need to have a perfect mental balance in order to have happy, healthy well adjusted kids.

However when we are struggling to deal with our own challenges it makes it that much harder to face the challenges of motherhood.

Simply going to the doctor for a prenatal appointment can become a huge obstacle if we are struggling with getting out of bed due to something like depression.

And when we are pregnant, every thing we do impacts baby in some way.

I know you’ve heard the old wives tale that playing classical music for baby in utero apparently increases their chances of being good in math yes?

While I’m not so sure about that I do know that playing music can impact baby, both of mine were born with song preferences after I developed a taste for repeating one song through out pregnancy.

My oldest still loves It’s my Life by Bon Jovi and he’s now 4 years old…

But besides that, our maternal mental health can throw up fears, and anxieties about things that are happening with baby.

Not only does this cause us stress, but it can dump some intense hormones into baby as well and may impact their development.

Stress during pregnancy appears to be one of the determinants of delay in motor and mental development in infants of 8 months of age and may be a risk factor for later developmental problems.

The Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health

But even worse, it can impact Mom’s sense of bonding with baby.

I can very clearly remember being pregnant with our oldest and worrying that I wasn’t bonded with baby. Which made me feel less bonded when others would talk about how connected to baby they felt. That led to me thinking I was a horrible mother cause I didn’t feel bonded… well you see the cycle that can start.

The truth was that baby was happy and content and bonded to me, it’s just that my mental health kept going back over a previously lost angel and obsessing over it.

And that brings me to another point, our children learn from us what is “normal” (again I hate that word but it fits here). As they grow up our kids will often mimic and even develop the habits they see us with.

Mom on the beach with her son while they relax and have fun.

So the habits that affect a new mom because of her mental health state may well become the same habits our kids develop down the road.

Conversely, if a Mamma has an amazingly strong mental health care practice, chances are her kids will mimic and develop their own mental health care practice too.

Maternal Mental Health and our Relationships

Being a Mom and maintaining adult relationships (even friendships that are non-romantic) can be a challenge. They take time and energy we often don’t have as we do everything in our power to care for our kids.

If we have the strength for it, reaching out to our support circle can help aleviate that stress. But if we are dealing with a mental health dysfunction it can be intimidating to talk to someone about it.

I know I’ve heard a couple stories where women thought they might be dealing with Postpartum Depression and didn’t reach out because they were scared they would be judged by those closest to them.

I know I struggled to talk about my anxiety as a new mom becuause I couldn’t tell if I was dealing with normal worry or if it was something I needed help for.

Mental Health Dysfunction causes you to question who you are and whether or not you need help. Often it can seem like no one else is dealing with the challenges you are facing which makes you feel worse, or causes you to try and hide it.

New Mom looking worried while holding baby on her chest while looking at a thermometer.  Her worry for baby's health can stress her maternal mental health if left unchecked.

And one of those things we do when we hide is to avoid the people we think will figure it out. Meaning our support group. The people who want to be there for you are the ones you actively avoid.

When we don’t connect enough with other adults and we are constantly surrounded by clingy kids it’s also really easy to get touched out, which is a form of maternal mental health disfunction that shows up as a physical aversion to contact.

Read more about what it means to be touched out.

Why is Mental Health Important to new Moms?

Becoming a Mother is a big adjustment, not only do we grow and nurture new life. But our bodies and minds make great changes in order to do so.

And while mental health is getting more and more attention these days often the mental load of motherhood and the role women play in our own lives can push us into experiencing mental health disfunction.

Since our mental health impacts and influences all the aspects of our lives, experiencing dysfunction can wreak havoc in our relationships, eating habits, physical health, finances, and much more.

Mental health experts are giving more and more attention to the disfunction of depression and psychosis that can happen during a mother’s postpartum recovery. And that’s awesome.

We are even starting to see the glimmer of hope that these conditions and concerns will be less and less stigmatized, as more and more women are speaking out about their experiences.

Yet some of the causes, and conditions are still not getting the recognition and assistance more women need them to. So lets check out those next!