Society will tell you over and over again: Having a baby is the most exciting time of your life. But what about when that time of celebration is clouded by depression or anxiety? The mental health hurdles that can pop up during or after a pregnancy can be severe. That’s why it’s important to keep your mental health at the forefront of any conversations you have throughout your pregnancy and birth of your child.
We spoke with Joanne Newfield, a licensed marriage and family therapist, about maternal mental health – signs to look for, how it can affect a new mother in the workplace, and ways to get help. (To watch the full webinar with Newfield, click here).
“It’s an uncomfortable topic to talk about,” Newfield said. “A lot of people don’t know how to start the conversation.”
Whether it’s with your partner or your boss, the most crucial piece of the conversation is the beginning. Bringing the topic up before symptoms show up is the best approach. That way, those around you can know what to look for. And hopefully, you and your team have put a plan in place for how to get help.
So, if you’re expecting a child or have just had one, what are the symptoms to be on the lookout for? Several different diagnoses can come about postpartum. Here are the main ones, and their symptoms:
- Postpartum depression (the most common affliction for new moms; about 1 in 7 mothers will suffer)
–Difficulty sleeping (even when the baby is sleeping)
–Loss of appetite
–Thoughts of helplessness
–Thoughts of suicide (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255)
- Postpartum anxiety
–Thoughts that something is going to happen to your baby
–Overwhelming worries that you’re not doing motherhood right
- Postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (usually affecting mothers who have had a traumatic pregnancy – emergency C-section, miscarriage, etc)
–Irritability or hypervigilance
- Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder
–Obsessions/intrusive thoughts related to the baby
–Compulsions (persistent counting, re-ordering, cleaning, etc)
For any of these symptoms, it’s important to enlist the help of a therapist or other professional. Often, they can tell the difference between something mild (the short-lasting “baby blues”) versus something much more serious (postpartum depression).
If you are diagnosed with any postpartum mental illness, it becomes crucial that you get the help you need. Sometimes this means psychotherapy, taking a longer maternal leave (which you are legally obligated to if diagnosed with postpartum depression or anxiety), or medication.
“I think a lot of women don’t know it’s safe to use medication (during pregnancy or while breastfeeding),” Newfield said. “Every woman is different. Some don’t want to use medication, but for the women who do, there are a lot of safe options.”
If you are suffering and postpone getting help, symptoms can have a huge effect on your work. Loss of concentration, difficulty sleeping, and irritability can all cloud your ability to function well in the workplace.
“It gets in the way of your projects,” Newfield said. “It may get in the way of staying organized. It’s hard to work with other people when you’re experiencing these symptoms. … How are you supposed to function in the office if you’re not able to sleep?”
Outside of the workplace, maternal mental health can have a huge impact. A partner or other family members can take on similar symptoms. And the development of your baby’s brain may even be affected, if you’re suffering from postpartum depression and have difficulty bonding with the baby.
“Maybe you won’t hold your baby, or talk to your baby,” Newfield said. “If we do the bare minimum, if we feed our baby and change their diapers, their brains aren’t going to develop. They’ll be at risk of developmental delays, and also mental health problems down the road.”
At the end of the day, no matter how imposing and impossible a mental health crisis may feel like, help is available. People like Newfield offer psychotherapy (even in-home sessions, which can be helpful for new mothers). Medication is available. Hospitals often provide resources and information on how to get help.
But the first step? Talking about it, and releasing any guilt associated with your symptoms.
“A lot of people think it’s an emotional disease,” Newfield said. “But it’s a chemical imbalance. You can’t really see it. A lot of people suffer in silence. There’s a lot of shame in mental health. … The statistics are high, and there is support out there, and we can help you.”
For more information on Newfield or to schedule time with her, you can find her WMN / WRK profile here.