By now I think we all know Postnatal Anxiety and Depression are real. What’s crazy is that research on maternal mental health didn’t really start until the 1980’s! Because there has not been a long length of time spent towards the research maternal mental health, it’s no surprise that new conditions of maternal mental health are beginning to emerge. Now before we go any further, I want to point out that I am not a doctor (obviously) or a mental health expert (also obviously). I am just a yoga teacher/mama who is passionate about helping out fellow mamas along their motherhood journey with the tools of yoga. My mental health has been affected after having children, and I have spent a fair bit of time researching the topic as well as working to help myself and other mamas who suffer. So, now that we’ve got that out of the way I would love to shed some light on the topic of Mental Health Awareness.
After having my second child, I began to see and feel a scale of maternal mental health. At the far end you have Postnatal Depression, but before that there are three terms that I believe affect a large majority of new mamas:
The Baby Blues are estimated to be experience by upwards of 80% of new mothers. At around day 3 following birth, all those amazing hormones we experienced in pregnancy start to crash. Say goodbye to that high flowing oxytocin and say hello to a heck ton of crying. For me I was rather content on the day my Baby Blues hit, I just cried for most of the day and didn’t want much to do with anyone except my kiddies. No specific reason, and after that day the blues were gone…for the time being. Other mamas might experience the blues differently, but the key determining factor is they leave quite quickly and the key reason is due to the body no longer making all those blissful hormones.
Postnatal Depletion is a new term for me, and I am here for it! Dr Oscar Serrallach introduced this condition to me (not personally, just through research) and he estimates that 1 in 2 women suffer from depletion. The key symptoms are fatigue, memory loss, feelings of being overwhelmed and advanced ageing and the key determining factor is pregnancy. So ya… you can see why so many mamas can suffer from Postnatal Depletion. One of the main issues, Dr Oscar Serrallach lays out is how the symptoms of depletion are too normalised. Just because most of your mothers group is suffering from hair loss and fatigue, doesn’t mean that it has to be that way.
Postnatal Anxiety is a more familiar term to the mainstream with a reported 1 in 5 mamas suffering from this condition. A key symptom I have found in myself and in talking with other mamas who suffer from this, is the feeling of fear and worry taking over the thoughts. Example: when your husband leaves the house you panic that he will get into a car crash and you begin to spiral into what life will be like if he dies. Ya that’s a real thought from my postnatal anxiety brain and ya its not fun. Other symptoms are irritability, pain attacks, avoiding social situations.
Postnatal Depression is reported to occur in around 30% mamas and is incredibly debilitating. It’s important to remember that Postnatal Depression, as with all of these conditions, can happen to anyone. Some key symptoms are experiencing a lack of interest in yourself and/or the baby, feelings resentment towards baby or partner, changes in sleep and appetite, having thoughts of harming yourself and/or the baby. Dr. Oscar Serrallach has said, “a mother who has Postnatal Depletion will usually have moments where she feels good and happy…. a mother will depression doesn’t have moments of feeling like everything is OK. It’s just a hard slog.”
There are definitely other mental health conditions that affect mamas, but the four I have briefly outlined are the ones I am most familiar with and feel comfortable sharing some information about. These four conditions present themselves to me on a sliding scale. Blues can slide into Depletion which can slide into Depression if it goes unchecked and untreated. Of course I am not saying that if you have the Baby Blues you will slide the scale upwards, and it is of course also possible to present with Postnatal Depression without starting at Depletion. BUT presenting these on a scale helps my brain, and I hope yours, grasp how each are different and how each can be treated so as not to slide into a more severe condition.
This brings me to my next bit - what to do. The fact is that most mamas will be suffering from one or some of these, and if you’re reading this going maybe I do have some of these symptoms please let this encourage you to take action. The longer you wait, the worse and longer lasting these conditions can become.
First and foremost I encourage any mama who is just not feeling herself to talk. Talk to a friend, a husband a therapist, a doctor, whomever….just talk about how you’re feeling. I often find the act of saying out loud to another adult that ‘I don’t feel myself and this is why I don’t feel myself’ is healing in and of itself. From that conversation, you and that consenting person can put together a game plan to help get you better. It might be as simple as continuing to talk it out, or it might mean booking an appointment with a therapist. But it all starts with talking.
From there I 100% advocate for all mamas to educate themselves. I have found Dr. Oscar Serrallach to be a great source of information, but there is also useful information on Beyond Blue and Cope, just to name a few. Knowledge is power my mamas, and there is no one size fits all approach to maternal care, so empower yourself and find the best road to health for you.
Check in with what you’re feeding yourself. I am super duper guilty of just snacking on cheese and crackers and not eating meals. I believe this has gotten me into Postnatal Depletion and Postnatal Anxiety. As mamas we often spend so much time concerned with what is going into our little ones, and we forget about ourselves. It is so important to keep up your caloric intake with nutritious and nurturing food during the first year of motherhood (breastfeeding or not). A lack of nutrition is directly correlated to Postnatal Depletion developing, and I believe it's also associated with anxiety and depression developing. If you are struggling to make food for yourself, then order yourself some takeout or take that family/friend up on their offer to bring your dinner. Make two of a meal, and freeze the other. Keep healthy snacks in your fridge, like these bliss balls. If you have the funds, consider a postnatal food delivery service.
Keep socializing. In the midst of this pandemic socializing can be tricky, but keeping up with friends and family is so important... even if it has to be via FaceTime. We are community creatures, and when we take ourselves out of community our mental health pays the price. Because of corona and because we have recently moved, my social outings can be far and few between. If I don't make these a priority, then I start noticing a decline in my mental health and an increase of anxiety before a social encounter occurs. But the moment I start engaging, I start speaking and I start relating to a community the heaviness of any anxiety starts to melt away.
Lastly and definitely not least, incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine. Pranayama & meditation are your best friends in motherhood. When you start to feel that panic ball rising in your chest, focus on your breath. Count your breath in and out and start to slow each round of breath down. Play a meditation while you’re feeding the little one or before you fall asleep at night practice a gratitude meditation. Need some help with this? There is a mindful mama playlist inside the Updog Yoga Mamas class library dedicated to breathwork and meditation for mamas. A daily mindfulness practice will calm your nervous system and take you out of fight or flight mode. Research, like this one, has proven that mindfulness is effective in reducing the symptoms of depression in new mamas.
Some mamas are going to need more help than others to work through their maternal mental health, and some are going to have a harder time than others admitting they are not mentally healthy. The more we support one another and share our stories though, the more we will encourage our fellow mamas that it's OK to ask for help and receive support. Because I truly believe sharing is caring, I will be sharing my personal journey on updogyogamamas.com in the coming days.
Much love and more coming soon mamas,