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4 min read

Expectant Moms: What You Should Know About Mental Health During and After Pregnancy

perinatal therapy room

For those becoming new parents for the very first time, there is a lot that we don't know. Experience teaches, but often friends and family are reluctant to share the uglier parts of pregnancy, birth, and the aftermath. In this article, we'll share what to know about perinatal therapy for expecting moms, and offer tips about guarding your mental health during this time.

Challenges Associated with Pregnancy and Birth

Maternal mental health is one of those topics that often gets brushed aside when a person becomes pregnant. People will gladly share the funny and good things about a child's birth, but the expectant mother rarely hears stories of post-birth diapers (for mom!), vaginal tearing, sexual abstention, and the mental health issues that can appear around pregnancy, birth, and beyond. Pregnancy and birth are not easy, and societal expectations that you should be happy and brave around these events can add pressure to an already stressful time.

There are a number of changes to the body and health problems that can occur during pregnancy, including mental health concerns. Some physical issues that can accompany pregnancy include:

  • Fatigue
  • Problems with sleep
  • High blood pressure
  • Hormonal changes
  • Frequent urination

Pregnancy and Mental Health Concerns

Many of us have heard of postpartum depression, but for most of us, it is only a phrase. Not to mention that we associate depression with the time after birth. However, many experts now use the term "perinatal depression" to describe the challenges surrounding a mother's mental health, because it refers to the time during and after pregnancy.

Research shows that depression around pregnancy is fairly common, with around 17% developing postpartum depression, and 20-40% developing depression during pregnancy.

However, because of all the physical changes that can occur, pregnant women experience postpartum depression or perinatal depression and miss the signs. Here are some common signs of depression to watch for:

  • Low energy, fatigue
  • Increased anxiety
  • Crying often
  • Appetite changes
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Losing enjoyment in previously enjoyed activities (anhedonia)
  • Difficulty feeling a connection to your developing baby (and may feel guilty as a result of this)

Baby Blues vs Postpartum Psychosis

While depression during the postpartum period can be common, there is a more severe form that some new mothers may experience called postpartum psychosis. It is rare, affecting only around 1-2% of new moms out of 1,000, but it can be serious and may require hospitalization for the safety of the mother and the baby. Symptoms of this disorder include:

  • Auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Thoughts of harming the baby
  • Delusions (belief of untrue things)

If you are experiencing these symptoms after childbirth, it is considered an emergency situation and requires the help of a psychiatrist to support the mental health of the new parent.

Managing Postpartum Mental Health

Mental health care has come a long way in recent years, and a woman's mental health concerns are not ignored as often as they were in the past (although there is still a long way to go). There are several ways that expectant moms can support their well-being during this major life change.

Prioritizing Self-Care

When you know that you'll be giving birth soon, it can be difficult to focus on taking care of your own needs. However, several beneficial lifestyle habits can help manage stress and increase well-being for new parents. Some of these include getting moderate exercise (as supported by your doctor), getting time outside, resting when you can, and practicing mindfulness.

Building an Emotional Support and Validation Network

Among coping strategies, creating social connections ranks as one of the most effective. People are social animals, and new parents can benefit from the emotional support of other parents. And parenthood doesn't have to be the only connection, friends and family can also be great emotional and even physical support during this time.

Seeking Therapy

In certain situations, getting help from a mental health therapist can be the right choice. There are a number of therapists who specialize in supporting mental health issues around pregnancy, and they can help you learn coping strategies, manage stress, and feel more confident as a new parent. They may also be able to guide you to a support group for new parents, which can be a safe space to share with others in your situation.

Strengthening the Parent-Child Bond

Giving birth to a new baby can be a time of joy, but also of anxiety as new parents navigate new responsibilities and deal with the stress of learning about how to care for another human being. We have a tendency to inflate positive emotions around this time, and often don't acknowledge the fear, anxiety, and depression that can plague new mothers.

A mother's experience is not always the same, and when you don't feel a strong connection to your new child, it can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. A new mother who may have had an insecure bond with her own parents may be at greater risk for this type of challenge. A postpartum therapist can help heal past trauma, offer coping skills, and may also recommend group skill classes for new parents.

When It Can Be Time to Find a Therapist

Therapy can be effective for navigating the changes that create stress for many women who are pregnant or have just given birth. Almost anyone can benefit from therapy sessions around this time, but it can be essential for some. This includes people who are experiencing the symptoms of postpartum psychosis, or have difficulty connecting with the new baby.

Also, those who have experienced pregnancy loss can gain support through sharing their feelings in therapy. The enormous life change of pregnancy, and then the loss of that pregnancy can put a person at serious risk of depression and other mental health concerns.

The good news is, treatment is available. Therapy can help new parents safely manage the stress that can occur with the arrival of a child.

Supporting New Mothers' Well-Being in Brooklyn, NY

New parenthood can be tough, and many women may not feel equipped to deal with the emotions that can come along with pregnancy and postpartum periods. If you have been experiencing feelings of anxiety or sadness, there is treatment available.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, our team of doctoral-level psychotherapists has experience working with women and families dealing with the stress of parenthood.

Give us a call today, and our patient coordinator will help you find the right child and family therapist to offer support for your feelings around parenthood, allow you to talk about and process those feelings, as well as share the tools to build self-awareness, cope with stress, and live your best life.

Book a Therapy Session in Brooklyn Today

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