Here at the ByeByeCry Club, we've helped bring awareness during Colic Awareness Month (March) and Shaken Baby Awareness Month (May). Since we’re all about supporting mothers and empowering each other in this community, we also wanted to shed some light on another important awareness topic in the month of May:
Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month
The first Wednesday of May is the official World Maternal Mental Health Day. On this day and throughout the entire month, countries around the world are leading campaigns to promote maternal mental health awareness. These occur on social media, in local communities, and across many online platforms.
Why Is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month Important?
Maternal Mental Health Awareness (MMHA) is important for many reasons.
What else can bring together 2 billion people on the planet? … Did you guess?!
That’s right: MOTHERHOOD.
But motherhood can be lonely.
Even though there may be billions of other women going through what you’re going through, it’s easy to forget. And when you’re awake for 3 am feedings or trying to soothe your colicky baby at all hours of the day and night, motherhood can feel so isolating.
A big part of bringing awareness to maternal mental health is letting moms know there’s support for them.
To quote American songwriter Jim Brickman’s song, Never Alone: “So when hard times have found you and your fears surround you, Wrap my love around you, you're never alone.” Think of this as a good motherhood theme song.
YOU’re not alone. I see you, and I’m here with you, mama.
Ways to Be Informed About Maternal Mental Health
So, what are ways that maternal mental health challenges can show up?
Lots of women experience some version of the "baby blues" directly following pregnancy. This type of depression typically involves feelings of sadness and affects many mothers. These are valid, real feelings, even though “baby blues” isn’t formally considered a Maternal Mental Health Disorder (MMHD).
In terms of MMHDs, postpartum psychology is typically categorized into four different diagnoses: postpartum depression, postpartum OCD, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum psychosis. While some are more talked about than others, it’s important to bring awareness to each one.
Eliminating the Stigma of Maternal Mental Health
A mom has pictured her time with her newborn for months… years. For her whole life, perhaps. She had a beautiful baby shower and celebrated the upcoming arrival of her little angel.
But when that time came, something changed. She experienced hormonal changes, accompanied by feelings of depression, anxiety, or overwhelm. These were mental, physical, and emotional – all-encompassing.
And on top of all she’s going through after birth, she feels shame about having these feelings. She feels like she should be loving the newborn phase. She should be happy. She should feel “normal.”
But she doesn’t.
While it’s becoming more mainstream to talk about mental health, it’s still common for moms to feel shame or like they have to hide their feelings or diagnosis. The more we support new moms through this time, the more we can help them not only survive but thrive.
So, let’s talk.
Mental health awareness helps let go of the stigma and shame attached to living with and disclosing a mental health disorder.
Here are the disorders that most commonly affect mothers during postpartum and how to increase awareness around them.
*Please note: If you’re currently experiencing any symptoms of the following maternal mental health disorders, reach out to your doctor, OBGYN, or a medical professional.
1. Postpartum Depression (PPD)
PPD is probably the most openly talked about maternal health disorder currently. Let’s keep the conversation going.
Postpartum depression, unlike the “baby blues” mentioned earlier, has more severe symptoms and lasts for a longer amount of time. PPD can affect a mother’s mood and more, including her ability to care for herself and her baby.
PPD symptoms may include withdrawing from others, crying, insomnia, challenges bonding with baby, hopelessness, and irritability, to name a few.
Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month aims to help decrease the stigma that may accompany coping with PPD and make it less taboo for mothers to speak up and get help.
2. Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (PP-OCD)
As someone who experienced this first-hand, talking about PP-OCD hits close to home.
It’s one of the lesser-known or less talked about postpartum conditions. According to Postpartum Support International, PP-OCD is estimated to affect 3-5% of new moms. This is the “most misunderstood and misdiagnosed of the perinatal disorders.”5
It’s possible that women can be undiagnosed or untreated due to fear of telling someone, fear of people thinking they’re crazy, or fear that their child may be taken away. It’s probably more common than any of us know.
Postpartum OCD involves intense worrying thoughts that may progress, repeat, or worsen. PP-OCD symptoms can include intrusive thoughts and typically involve:
Fears of injuring and harming your baby
Worries about germs and cleanliness.
This can obviously be very scary for a new mom to experience. It’s scary to feel like you might impulsively hurt your child, knowing you actually don’t want to. Being triggered when bathing them, near knives, or walking them up and down the stairs are scary situations for a new mom to live through when experiencing PP-OCD. Then you replay it over and over in your head, accompanied by intense feelings of guilt.
One thing I wish someone would have said to me is that having PP-OCD (or any disorder) doesn’t define you. It’s important to help moms separate the diagnosis/disorder from the person that they are.
It’s important to ask for help. If you feel uncomfortable being alone with your baby, it’s OK to talk to a therapist or your doctor.
3. Postpartum Anxiety (PPA)
Like all mood disorders, postpartum anxiety can be scary for a mother to experience. Feelings of extreme worries that don’t stop seem to take over. And as a new mom trying to care for a baby, while feeling on edge and incapable of calming down, can be traumatic.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, postpartum anxiety can affect between 11% and 21% of new moms.2 PPA presents as an excessive amount of worrying after a baby is born.
Remember: You are not alone.
As you can see, PPA affects many women. It’s OK to receive and ask for help.
4. Postpartum Psychosis
According to the Cleveland Clinic, postpartum psychosis is a mental health emergency.4 Postpartum psychosis is a rare but potentially severe and dangerous postpartum disorder.
Mothers with postpartum psychosis are more likely to hurt themselves and their babies or die by suicide. If you believe someone is going to hurt themself or another, please call 911 immediately.
Moms with postpartum psychosis may feel paranoid, hallucinate, or have delusions.
Specific treatments for this disorder may include medications and electroconvulsive therapy. The good news is that postpartum psychosis is temporary. With the right treatment, a mother can recover.
So how can we continue to support moms?
It can’t all rest on a new mom to go through this alone. Talking and supporting new moms through difficult postpartum experiences is how we begin.
I’m just one mama on a mission. But that’s how it starts. A mission to support a community of other moms by opening up conversations about all things motherhood. Together, we can help one another grow, heal, and thrive!
Helpful Resources Available to Support Mothers’ Mental Health
Call support hotlines for help:
SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
Postpartum Support International HelpLine at 1-800-944-4773
Call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24/7 in the US
National Maternal Mental Health Hotline at 1-833-943-5746 (1-833-9-HELP4MOMS)
National Parent Hotline at 1-855-427-2736 (1-855-4A PARENT)
Find a local or online support group, such as the Cherished Mom Virtual Pregnant & Postpartum Meet-Up
Primary Care Physicians
Your child’s pediatrician can also offer insight and support for postpartum mental health needs.
Check out the official website for World Maternal Mental Health Day and learn about the movement, advocacy, and ways to get involved.
Learn about additional resources on the International OCD Foundation’s Postpartum OCD Fact Sheet.
Resources, such as parents.com, can provide an abundance of articles and helpful ideas and tools for moms and families. You can use the Search function at the top to narrow down the maternal mental health topic.
How Can Everyone Support Maternal Mental Health in May and All Year Long?
While we reserve the month of May to bring awareness to maternal mental health, it’s important to remember that women are giving birth and suffering from postpartum disorders throughout the entire year.
Ways to help support moms and bring more awareness to maternal mental health all year long include:
Supporting family and friends who may be experiencing symptoms of postpartum disorders.
Being aware of symptoms and talking to your partner/friend about the benefits of seeing a professional to get help (not forcing the topic, but supporting their mental health).
We’ll be continuing our support and discussions of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month on social media. Join the ByeByeCry Club as we continue to lift one another up and support all moms.
We’ll be joining Postpartum Support International by adding the hashtag #maternalMHmatters. We encourage you to join us!
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Postpartum Depression.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617 Accessed 4 April 2023.
Cleveland Clinic. “Postpartum Anxiety.” https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22693-postpartum-anxiety Accessed 4 April 2023.
Taylor, Martin. WebMD, “What is Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?” https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-postpartum-obsessive-compulsive-disorder Accessed 5 April 2023.
Cleveland Clinic. “Postpartum Psychosis.” https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/24152-postpartum-psychosis Accessed 5 April 2023.
Postpartum Support International. “Pregnancy or Postpartum Obsessive Symptoms.” https://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/obsessive-symptoms/ Accessed 9 April 2023.