Maternal mental health is one of the most important health conditions of pregnancy, but often takes a back seat to the baby's needs.
New parents are frequently told that experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions during and after pregnancy is ‘normal,’ but it rarely feels ‘normal.’ And it turns out, it’s impossible to even define what’s normal, only what’s normal for you.
“I wish I had been prepared to understand that the window for postpartum mental health challenges doesn't fit neatly into a few weeks or months after birth.”
Individual stories about mental and emotional challenges are often assumed to be the minority experience, but the data shows otherwise:
Jane Van Dis, ObGyn, believes more openness around maternal mental health is needed to ensure women receive appropriate support. “When someone asks me what the #1 complication of pregnancy is, I say, maternal depression, anxiety and mood disorders.”
"How is it, though, that something that affects so many women is often unscreened, untreated and ignored. There are multiple factors: Stigma: There is the fear that society equates mental health problems with bad parenting with only 10% of men and women get the care they need. Societal norms: Focus on the baby often means a new mother's health condition are ignored by herself, her family, and her support network. Lack of follow up: Up to 40% of women don't go to their postpartum check up. "
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant and postpartum women be screened at least once during prenatal and postnatal care, and many health care providers and systems are doing more; these screenings are now the law in California. When we discuss maternal mental health we often focus solely on postpartum depression but anxiety and psychosis are also essential to diagnose and treat.
Also, evidence indicates that treating the depression of mothers leads to improved growth and development of their infants.