"I don't want to hold my baby"
This week (the 3rd to the 9th of May) is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual, week-long campaign dedicated to bringing awareness to and talking about mental health problems during and after pregnancy. The campaign wants to raise awareness in the public as well as in health professionals and advocate for women affected by these conditions. The organisation that leads this campaign is The Perinatal Mental Health Partnership UK and they also use this yearly event to signpost where women and their families can access help and support if they need it and get them on the road to recovery.
This year's campaign has the theme ‘Journey To Recovery’ which aims to focus on recovery and how that can look different for every woman. This year's campaign also wants to highlight how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected new mums, mums to be and their families. The pandemic has left many feeling lost and isolated so the group wants to make sure women and their families feel heard and supported during this time.
Maternal mental health problems
Mental health problems before and after pregnancy are common, which might surprise many but it’s mainly because these issues are another item on the list of things people just don’t want to talk about with many, if anyone at all. This is amplified by the fact that many women are worried about what telling someone might mean for them and their baby. It’s common for women to not want to tell anyone about their struggles through fear that their baby might be taken from them or that they’ll have to leave their home. Thankfully, this is rare and most women can make a full recovery at home, with their family with the support and supervision of a health professional. Women’s mental health problems are also made worse by the guilt and confusion women get about feeling this way, and experiencing things like not wanting to hold their baby or not feeling like they want their baby.
How common are maternal mental health problems?
The mental health problems that pregnant women or new mums can face, vary but can include;
- Low mood
- Eating disorders
Depression and anxiety are the most common conditions women face with 12% experiencing depression during pregnancy, 13% experiencing anxiety during pregnancy, with many women experiencing both. 15-20% of women will also experience either or both of these conditions in the first year after birth. Around 2 in 1,000 women who have given birth will be affected by postpartum psychosis which is a serious mental illness which can include symptoms of mania (high mood), hallucinations, delusions, confusion and depression and in extreme cases there is a risk of suicide. It’s estimated that ¼ of all maternal deaths are related to mental health problems.
Does maternal mental health affect your baby?
The symptoms of these illnesses can lead to poor bonding with the baby or problems with breastfeeding, and this itself can lead to even more distress and anxiety. Some research has even shown a potential impact on the child’s cognitive development, language development and school performance. Experiencing mental health problems around your pregnancy can also affect you long after you give birth such as affecting your employment up to 5 years after birth.
Statistics like this highlight why it’s so important to bring awareness to this topic and ensure that women and their families can access the support that they need.
Experiencing mental health problems at any time is very distressing but when you're expecting a baby or have just had one, it’s the last thing you need on your plate. With the right support and treatment, most women make a full recovery and go on to live happy and healthy lives with their families. This can only happen though if they make the first step and ask for help, which is so difficult to do. We must support and advocate for mothers we know and those we don’t to ensure they can live their life to the fullest. If you need support, in the first instance you should speak with your GP, midwife or health visitor. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this then you can also speak to independent charities and organisations like Mind (Support and services | Mind, the mental health charity - help for mental health problems). If you are in a mental health crisis then you can find your local crisis helpline through this link Mental Health Helpline for Urgent Help - NHS (www.nhs.uk).