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Handling Mental Health as a New Mom
Mental health as a new (or experienced!) mom is so important. I suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety when my daughter was born. My reality as a new mama was very different from the “new motherhood bliss” I was expecting.
Although I felt alone, I wasn’t. Many women feel shame and like a “bad mom” for having mental health struggles. But it’s 100% normal to have these feelings — you’re still a great mom, and you’re not alone!
Let’s break the taboo and talk about postpartum depression, anxiety, and how to ask for the help you need.
Why Maternal Mental Health is Still Taboo
In the US, 900,000 moms are diagnosed with postpartum depression every year. So, why is the topic still taboo?
As a society, America puts a stigma around mental health in general — that if you have a mental health issue, there’s something “wrong” with you. But that isn’t the case at all.
It’s perfectly normal to have the baby blues or full-blown postpartum depression as you navigate the new season of motherhood. And, if you already have a history of mental illness, you are more likely to experience postpartum depression.
The bottom line is that you absolutely shouldn’t wait for the 6-week baby wellness visit to discuss mental health with your doctor.
How is Postpartum Anxiety Different from Depression?
Many women face depression or anxiety — or both — after giving birth. Postpartum depression is often easier to diagnose than anxiety. It makes it more challenging to get the help you need, but not impossible.
If you have anxiety, you likely face a lot of fear and worry about returning to work as a new mom or your child’s health and development. There’s a severity spectrum with it, too. It can span from usual worries to the point of obsession. When you have anxiety, it can derail you from doing your normal activities.
Depression is different. It’s a general feeling of hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, or feeling like a failure.
You might think you’re out of the woods if several weeks have passed after becoming a new mom. But postpartum depression doesn’t always start right away — you might not notice it until several months after your baby is born.
How to Ask for Help
Women tend to shy away from asking for help out of fear of being seen as shameful and weak. Many cultures — America included — place unrealistic expectations on women. New mamas are expected to do it all without complaining or asking for help.
But it is not healthy or normal to feel desperately alone.
Here’s what to keep in mind when asking for help:
- Understand there is power in vulnerability.
- Learn how to ask for help.
- Accept the help when offered.
For example, you might tell your partner, friend, or family member, “I need help.” If they brush you off, say, “You don’t understand,” and share an experience you’re having, such as sitting in a shower and crying for 30 minutes at a time or feeling isolated and alone.
Motherhood is supposed to be communal, not solitary, so seek out or create a community. Talk to other moms that you admire and develop a relationship.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. For example, you might ask a friend to come over for two hours so you can get some sleep, get out of the house, or take a break from caring for the baby and focus on caring for yourself.
Asking for help can be a struggle, but seek out people you trust, like partners and friends. And don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your doctor.
Keep in mind that, even if you trust your doctor, they may not have specialized mental health training. Ask your physician how they screen for mental illness. Afterward, you may need to see a specialist for a formal diagnosis.
Tackle Mental Health and Prevent New Mama Burnout
Striving to meet the requirements for social perfection is exhausting and artificial. There is no guilt in asking for help — you are not a burden.
Plus, think of it this way: Asking for help is also benefiting your family. Because when you feel well, your family feels well.
Asking for help and admitting you’re struggling can be scary and uncomfortable. But you’re not alone. Every new mom has fears and anxiety, even if they look like they’re handling it all in stride.
Ask your partner, friends, family, neighbors, and community groups for help. And get professional help with mental health as a new mom if you need it.
Meet the Experts
Dr. Sheryl Ziegler is a psychotherapist, speaker, frequent media contributor, and author of Mommy Burnout, a guide that helps moms ditch the idea of being the perfect mom, stop the burnout cycle and the damage it can cause and re-energize themselves – letting them raise healthier children in the process
Tiffany Day is a former career mom turned stay-at-home mom that overcame losing her job while struggling with anxiety and depression and turned it into a platform to inspire other moms. Her mission is to break the stigmas around mental health, and more specifically, maternal mental health.
Cinthia Rivas is a first-time Mama, licensed Acupuncturist, Reiki Master, and co-creator of the Postpartum Empowerment Deck After 13 years as a holistic health care practitioner, she’s discovered a deep passion for helping mamas experience optimal health while building and nurturing a relationship between their mind, body, and spirit.