Motherhood can be a life-changing experience. Many aspects of being a mother are extremely rewarding and meaningful. However, maternal mental health is not always an easy path. You may feel anxiety, stress, and a range of other emotions along the way.
Maternal Mental Health – by stage
Here are some of the maternal mental health challenges you may face pre-pregnancy, and while in the perinatal and postpartum periods, or the time during pregnancy and after birth. Plus, learn several ways to cope with these concerns.
Women may experience heightened tensions while trying to get pregnant. Getting pregnant can be a stressful process, especially if conception does not happen right away. This can become worrisome if you have tried several times without success. The cycle of hope and disappointment may feel draining. Keep in mind that infertility affects one out of eight couples, and you may want to consult your primary healthcare provider about any concerns you have.
Some women may worry about balancing pregnancy and their careers. It can be discomforting to think about managing fatigue, maintaining mental clarity, and getting maternity leave. Feelings of uncertainty about working during pregnancy can be taxing. However, you can mentally prepare yourself for pregnancy. Accessing social support and discussing these concerns with other working mothers can aid this transition.
Prenatal Mental Health
Prenatal healthcare often focuses on physical health. However, your emotional well being is equally important. Many mothers-to-be may feel stressed about their pregnancy, and feelings of uneasiness are common throughout the prenatal period. Pregnant women who work may have unique fears too.
Pregnancy’s effects extend to various facets of mental health, and could make existing issues worse. Specific concerns may include:
- Mood swings triggered by hormonal changes
- Disrupted sleep and daytime fatigue
- Increased irritability or moments of frustration
- Worries about the baby’s health
- Nervousness about becoming a mother
- Periods of sadness or low mood
- Trouble thinking clearly or forgetfulness
Pregnancy can also affect your physical health in several ways including increased backaches, heartburn, and morning sickness.
Postpartum Mental Health
Motherhood can be one of the most fulfilling and meaningful experiences of your life, but becoming a mom can also cause significant changes in your mental health. Here are some ways the challenges of new motherhood may affect you.
Changing hormone levels in addition to the environmental stressors of adjusting to motherhood have cascading effects on maternal mental health, and subsequently, child success. During the postpartum period, those changes experienced may lead to emotional fluctuations and feelings of hopelessness. Some mothers go through brief periods of mild sadness or mood swings, while some see more serious consequences. When you experience sadness or moodiness, your reaction in a frustrating moment may be magnified.
Interrupted meals are a reality for many mothers due to the increased demands that accompany a child. In some women, changes to eating behaviors may be a reaction to stress. You may start snacking more when you feel tired, crave sweets or salty foods, or skip meals altogether. Additionally, some women in the postpartum period may also feel hungrier if they are breastfeeding.
Caring for a baby around the clock can leave mothers feeling constantly fatigued. You may also notice other changes such as having difficulty falling asleep or waking too early in the morning. Even partial sleep deprivation may cause you to feel lethargic and mentally foggy during the day. The effects of sleep deprivation may continue for several years after childbirth, making it a potential chronic stressor.
Stress and Anxiety
The responsibilities of parenthood can feel overwhelming. Postpartum women may experience lingering worries about their child’s health, breastfeeding, maternal illness, and their financial situation. As a new mother, you may experience heightened stress or nervousness when going through challenging moments. These feelings may have a stronger impact if you do not have adequate social support or feel isolated.
When the pressures of motherhood builds up, you may fear negative judgment from others. You might feel anxious in social situations, or worry about how competent you appear as a parent. For example, the tantrum your child had in a store may trigger lingering feelings of embarrassment, and you may avoid meeting with friends. This may lead to isolation and avoidance of social situations.
Alertness and Attention Span
Pregnancy triggers a shift in hormones, which may also play a role in cognitive impairments postpartum. When fatigue, stress, and other demands pile up, you may feel more forgetful than usual. If strains are weighing heavily on your mind, you may struggle to pay attention. You might jump from task to task because you have difficulty staying mentally focused.
How to Improve Your Maternal Mental Health
Being a mother is a joyful experience, and you want to enjoy each moment with your child. Taking the time to focus on your health will give you the tools you need to manage your own challenges and take care of your child to the best of your ability.
You can manage stress and support your mental health before, during and after pregnancy by staying active, resting when you can, connecting with other mothers you know and trust, and practicing self-compassion.
Asking others for assistance is another way to manage your maternal mental health needs. Ask your family and friends to help with chores around the house, to make meals, or to care for other children in the home. Talk with a friend or your partner about your worries. With their help, you may feel less overwhelmed.
Genetic Testing for Mental Health
Gaining insight into how you may behave and respond to certain situations can help you focus on areas that may need some extra support during the perinatal period. Motherhood brings completely new psychological challenges, and being better equipped to handle these changes can be the key to managing your mental wellness.
For a personalized approach, the Genomind Mental Health Map™ is a DNA-based assessment tool for mental health and wellness that provides an in-depth analysis of your genetic predispositions across the 7 Core Genetic Mental Health Capabilities™, including Stress & Anxiety, Mood, Social Behavior, Eating Behavior, and more. The Mental Health Map™ pairs actionable insights with personalized recommendations to sustain and improve your mental wellness.
Identifying your genetic predispositions can give you a foundational understanding of your maternal mental health and wellness concerns. Knowing how you may behave and respond to certain situations can help you focus on areas in your life that may need some extra support. This tool can give you an expert starting point when it comes to facing any mental health challenges you may experience.
You’re Not Alone
Motherhood can feel like a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows as you navigate all the life adjustments from pre-pregnancy to parenthood. Motherhood is a period of major change, but supporting your maternal mental health can make the transition smoother.