A New Mother’s Well-Being, it’s More Fragile than You Think

by Joy Burkhard

When my oldest child Alex turned one, we did a lot of the usual celebrating: we invited our mommy-and-me class friends and family to come to his party, we marveled as he took his first bite of birthday cake, and we were thrilled when he began drinking from a straw cup rather than a bottle. Yet what I remembered celebrating most is that I survived his first year.

Most pregnant and new mothers appear delighted to be expecting or holding a newborn, and they should be, right? After all, most of us have been dreaming of holding our own babies since we were nearly babies ourselves.

Yet, research indicates that during the time surrounding the birth of a child up to 80% of women will suffer a disruption to her emotional well-being. She might be grateful for her baby but still experience things like mental fog, worry, crying and confusion about why she feels that way. Most of the time these symptoms will disappear naturally within a couple of days, and we refer to the experience as ‘The Baby Blues.’

However, roughly 15% of these women will go on to suffer something more serious, a clinical depression or a severe form of anxiety, with symptoms such as sadness, confusion, difficulty in focusing on caring for herself or her baby, excessive worry and severe sleep disturbances. Clinical depression and anxiety are conditions – like thyroid disease, for example – and are of no fault of the mother. They may not resolve naturally without treatment. In extreme cases, a mother may have thoughts of harming herself or child.

Though it’s rare, .2% of mothers may suffer from something extremely serious, and separate from depression or anxiety. It’s called psychosis. These mothers experience delusions which may include hearing or seeing things that aren’t really happening, which could involve a mother believing her child is possessed. It’s scary stuff, and because these mothers have a high risk of harming their children they must receive treatment immediately.

It all can seem quite surprising and daunting, however it’s critical that women and their families become aware of these disorders so they aren’t caught off guard if they fall victim. It’s CRITICAL that we all begin to raise awareness. We can do this by applauding the media who share stories about maternal mental health disorders and share more real life struggles of mommy-hood so we all have realistic expectations.

You can do something too: speak up. Talk to the pregnant or new moms you know and share what you’ve read. Moms – share your struggles, not just your birth stories! And pregnant and new moms, if you may be suffering from a maternal mental health disorder, speak up and get help. Promise me.

For more information, or to get help, contact your physician or call Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4PPD.

Guest blog by Joy Burkhard, MBA, mother of preschoolers and founder of the California Maternal Mental Health Collaborative.

The opinions in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of MissRepresentation.org.