It’s Maternal Mental Health week. April 30th to May 6th 2018 and we’re glad to be supporting this important initiative. Last year was first ever MMH week. This year we’ll celebrate the third World Maternal Mental Health Day on Wednesday 2nd May.  So what is maternal mental health and why does it matter?

Research from around the world shows that the mental health of a mother can have a strong effect on her baby’s health. The most recent research from Queen’s University Belfast. This says that women with a history of mental health issues are more likely to experience premature deliveries and babies with low birth weight. Around 20% of women have a history of mental disorders prior to pregnancy. However perinatal depression, psychosis and anxiety have also contributed to the difficulties women experience in finding a balance between their own mental health and caring for their baby or child. On report reckons that failure to address maternal mental health could be costing the UK around £8 billion annually.

A lack of NHS services or a lack of understanding?

The Maternal Mental Health Alliance claims that up to a quarter of British mums might not be able to access specialist support. For such conditions and points out that suicide is a leading cause of death for pregnant women and those who’ve given birth in the previous 12 months. It’s a scary statistic. It’s important to remember that for most women who experience an episode of mental health instability during pregnancy or while their children are young. This is a minor, easily treated difficulty. But there’s no doubt that mental health and pregnancy are both emotive issues. Many women find it difficult to talk about feelings of inadequacy or distance from their baby and if those feelings are more extreme. Women often try to keep them secret for fear of having their child taken away from them.

For many women, who’ve struggled through the first six months or year of a child’s life, discovering that mental health doesn’t magically ‘bounce back’ can be a shock. Mothers with fragile mental health may find the first few years of a child’s life are fraught with fear.  Depression, anxiety and relational stress can all be made worse. By the realisation that ceasing to breastfeed, or baby’s first birthday, or even her first day at school, don’t automatically switch off mental health issues that began, or were made worse, in pregnancy.

Helping with maternal mental health

  1. First, it’s important to find a place you can talk about what you’re thinking and feeling. A maternity nurse, doula, nanny or midwife might be the ideal resource … they will have heard similar stories before and be able to suggest things that may help.
  2. Seek support. It’s unfair and unhelpful that many women experience the postcode lottery that accompanies perinatal mental health issues in particular – at just the time they need most support and help, women may find that there doesn’t seem to be help easily on offer. Many organisations can advocate for you, including the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, and it can be useful to have a childcare professional: a maternity nurse or nanny, who can work with you to help you balance childcare, personal needs and seeking the kind of help that will give you confidence to move forward.
  3. The roller coaster does stop. Until it does, finding ways to manage your own mental health is vital. Many women find health walks, postnatal support groups, working with a relationship counsellor or ensuring that they get time alone to pursue a hobby or interest can all help.
  4. Accept that maternity is unrealistically presented in the media. Your feelings may actually be a normal part of pregnancy and new motherhood – taking about them can help you accept yourself, your child, and your mental health as normal and natural.
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