Postpartum depression and anxiety may not fit into that blissful picture of motherhood you’ve been dreaming up since conceiving, but it’s more real and more prevalent than the romantic, Madonna-and-child notion.
According to research published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, just over half of 211 women observed postpartum exhibited indicators of mood disorders; more importantly, only 20 percent of this group sought help during the three-year duration of the study.
The findings are crucial because postpartum mood disorders pose significant risk to maternal–and familial–psychological and physical wellbeing. Treatment is widely available, with a high success rate, but many new mothers are choosing to suffer in silence.
“We know that 10-20 percent of women experience significant mood disorders after childbirth, and those disorders can adversely affect the physical and emotional well-being of both mothers and children…This work highlights the importance of support networks and the need to normalise the wide variety of reactions women have after childbirth,” explains the study’s lead author Betty-Shannon Prevatt. “We need to make it OK for women to talk about their mental health, so that they can have better access to care. Working with the people around new mothers may be key.”
The researchers maintain that medical professionals do not have an extensive set of guidelines for screening new mums on their mental health; questions tend to be closed, cursory, and tacked on to the last hurried minutes of a consultation. A change in this regard can lead to major changes in women’s post-birth and early parenting experiences. It’s also imperative to encourage expectant mothers to build and strengthen their support systems for when the shock of their new role sets in. This is where NCT groups, and other mum and baby groups, can be invaluable–especially if the mum does not already have friends with babies. A strong support system is linked with higher chance of seeking out treatment.
Above all, the key to feeling comfortable to open up about your struggles is to forget what cute Instagram feeds and blissful mummy bloggers would have you believe. You need to replace that picture-perfect ideal of new motherhood with the more realistic version: mood disorders don’t mean you’re failing–parenting can be exhausting even its more peaceful moments–it just means you need to take care of yourself, too.
For more info on postpartum depression and anxiety, see here.