For many women it starts before they even know they're pregnant. I had baby names picked out when I was five. I practiced changing diapers, feeding, rocking and putting my 'baby' to bed. I was ready for sleepless nights and poop everywhere. I got so many things from other moms at my baby shower. It was a wonderful day filled with advice and gadgets, tiny clothes and whispered truths.
But no one told me about Postpartum Depression or Anxiety or OCD or Psychosis.
I was not ready for what happened after my baby was born. Dork Dad wasn't ready for it. We could have been and we should have been.
Maternal Mental Health issues are the number one complication of pregnancy. They are also one of the very few mental illnesses that can be predicted and prepared for, so why are we not warning mothers? Why are we not warning fathers? Why are we not equipping parents to be with this information?
We have classes that expectant parents can take covering breast feeding, birth plans, and what to expect in the first days and weeks with your newborn. The vast majority of the classes in my area (Charleston, SC) mention only Postpartum Depression and only in passing. It comes off as a thing that probably won't happen to you, but if it does here's this phone number.
With 1 in 7 women suffering from a maternal mental health complication after birth the odds actually are that it will happen to someone in each of those classes. Depression, Anxiety, OCD, and Psychosis are all things that do happen to about 1.3 million new mothers each year. They happen to first time moms and to veteran moms. They happen to moms of all ages, races, and economic status. They happen to healthy moms and moms struggling to bring their babies into this world.
We need to prepare families with the facts. We know that the faster mothers are seen by medical professionals and the more help is offered to a family the better the outcome. We know that women are generally terrified by the changes to their minds and that it is often their partners or a close family member who notices the changes first. We need to make sure that they are ready.
So here are my recommendations for expectant parents:
1. Please know that this is a medical complication of pregnancy. It is not a judgement on anything that you did or did not do. You can take actions now that will help you if you do become ill.
2. Here are some risk factors for Maternal Mental Illnesses. If you meet any of these criteria please make sure to discuss this with your Ob/Gyn.
3. Here are some of the symptoms of Maternal Mental Illnesses. Please know that some of these may show up during pregnancy and that there are medications and therapies that are safe for pregnant and nursing mothers!
4. Talk to your Obstetrician, your midwife - whoever will be attending your birth about your risk factors. Ask them about how they follow up with you after birth and about their screening process. Ask them about the steps you would need to take to get a referral for a therapist, Psychologist or Psychiatrist. Ask them about support groups in your area. Google "postpartum depression help zip code" with your zip code, or contact me through the comments section or via and I will help you.
5. When you do meet with pediatricians to choose one for your baby talk to them about whether they screen parents at each visit in the first year as well. Ask them about support groups they know of for parents dealing with these issues.
6. Call or go online and find out what steps you would need to take to have any mental health treatment covered by your health insurance. Can you call a doctor directly or would you need a referral?
7. Talk to your partner or whoever will be with you the most after your baby is born. Go over this list with them. Make sure they understand your risk factors, if you have any, and that they know what the symptoms could be and who to call to get you help.
8. Write it down! Put the phone numbers for any support groups, therapists, and local groups somewhere that you can find it easily. If there are any rules from your health insurance or any recommendations from your doctor write those down as well.
There are so many things you'll be doing to get ready for baby. You have a nursery to set up, or a car seat to install, or a co-sleeper to arrange or, or, or! Please don't forget that what your baby will need the most is a healthy mother. While you're preparing everything for baby please take a few moments to prepare things for yourself as well.
We all need to ask for what we need both during and after pregnancy. We cannot end the stigma surrounding these disease by pretending that they can't happen to us or by denying families the facts. We can create a safety net around baby and parent that will hold them and lift them up. We can promote healing. We can do this. You are not alone.
*** Please share this post with every expectant parent you know, with every Ob/Gyn and pediatrician you know, with every person you know who regularly comes into contact with new or expecting parents!***
In comments - what are some things you wish you had known about Maternal Mental Illness before your baby was born? What else would you add to this list?