The Effects of Pregnancy and Motherhood on Your Mental Health
Pregnancy and motherhood can be some of the most joyful times for new parents, especially mothers. But if you are expecting a little one or have recently given birth, you know that it’s not always a walk in the park. Pregnancy and motherhood are filled with pitfalls, complications, and challenges that no one prepares you for. During pregnancy, so much of your time is spent learning about the physical aspects of carrying a child and bringing them into the world. However, there is a whole other facet of pregnancy and motherhood that deserves your attention. There are many possible events, some rare and some common, that have implications for your mental health.
Medical Complications of Pregnancy and Motherhood
You probably know about all the things that can go wrong physically during the development of a baby. Thanks to modern advancements in medical science, we’ve been able to reduce medical events during pregnancy and motherhood much more than in the past. However, the terrible reality is that sometimes they are unavoidable. When bad things happen to expectant parents, it’s important they know where to turn for help and support.
A miscarriage happens when the baby is expelled from the mother’s body before it is able to survive on its own in the outside world. There are many possible causes for a miscarriage, and none of them are the fault of the mother. Many times, miscarriages are completely out of anyone’s control. They may be caused by physical accidents, preexisting health conditions, or spontaneous issues in the early stages of fetal development. If you experience a miscarriage, it is not your fault.
The loss of a baby, even an unborn one, can cause a sense of extreme grief and loss for the parents, especially the mother. Finding out that you are going to have a child is often the most joyous experience, and a miscarriage can take that away from you in an instant. It’s normal to feel defeated and profoundly sad in this situation.
During this time, you will need to allow yourself to grieve. Everyone grieves differently, and as a mother who has just lost a child, you may grieve in ways you never have before. You may feel angry at yourself, your partner, or a higher power. While this isn’t logical, it is natural; you’re looking for someone or something to blame this tragedy on. It may be helpful to seek out couples therapy during this time to help rebuild and strengthen your relationship with your partner. You will both need to support each other while you go through the grieving process.
After a miscarriage, you may experience physical symptoms of grief: loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and constant tiredness. It’s possible to slip into a state of depression after a miscarriage as well. Know that while the pain is immense right now, it won’t last forever. You will heal with time. Allow yourself that space to feel your feelings, even the painful ones.
Therapy or counseling can be an invaluable tool when going through a grieving process like this. Avery Lane is a safe and empathetic space for women who’ve endured experiences like this, and we want to help you on your healing journey.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines stillbirth as the death of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy or during labor. About one in every 175 babies is lost to stillbirth every year in the US. This is another unfortunate reality that women throughout history have faced.
Stillbirth is one of the most devastating experiences for parents to go through. After carrying the baby for months, awaiting their arrival, and buying clothes and furniture for the expected newborn, the sudden loss is nothing less than excruciating. Every parent is affected in their own unique way. Losing a child to stillbirth may change how you view the world or make you question your religious faith. It can damage your self-worth and sense of identity. Your relationship with your partner may be strained as you react differently to the loss.
As with miscarriage, it’s vital that you give yourself time to grieve. Your connection to your baby was real and profound, even though you didn’t get to see them grow up. Remember also that this time of anguish isn’t permanent, and the effects of it aren’t either. However, your relationship may be damaged or strained by this massive loss; having a partner who you love and care for is something to cling to during this time. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, but don’t make any drastic changes while you’re under their influence. When you come out of your grief, you’ll need stability to keep moving forward.
It may be helpful to attend family therapy when you feel ready to process what happened, especially if you have other children. Healing from loss as a family can bring you closer together and mend the damage that grief can do. It’s also a good opportunity to identify any mental health issues that may have developed as a result of this loss. Women who have experienced a stillbirth are more likely to develop depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the fact. Avery Lane offers weekly virtual support sessions and education groups for the families of our clients.
Physical or mental abnormalities that occur during fetal development are often referred to as birth defects. These abnormalities can lead to structural or functional challenges for the child now and later in life. Birth defects can affect various organ systems, including the heart, brain, limbs, and more. They may result from genetic mutations, environmental factors, or a combination of both. While medical advancements have improved the understanding and management of birth defects, they can still have profound emotional and psychological effects on parents.
The news of a child being born with a birth defect can trigger a range of emotions: shock, grief, guilt, and anxiety. You may experience a sense of loss as you mourn the idealized image of a healthy child. At the same time, you may blame yourself or wonder if you could have done something differently during pregnancy. Additionally, coping with your child’s complex medical needs can be overwhelming and exhausting.
The ongoing care, financial burdens, and uncertainty about the future can strain the mental health of parents. Feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety are common. Support from healthcare professionals, support groups, and counseling can play a crucial role in helping parents navigate the emotional challenges associated with caring for a child with a birth defect. It is essential to recognize and address the mental health needs of parents, as their well-being ultimately impacts the child’s care and development.
Mental Health Issues During Pregnancy and Motherhood
During pregnancy and motherhood, both your body and your brain are going through major changes. The hormone levels of a pregnant person are extremely different than those of a non-pregnant person. While these changes aren’t visible, they are very real and can have intense effects on mood, behavior, and mental health in general. Mental health issues are, unfortunately, fairly common during pregnancy and motherhood.
Perinatal and Postpartum Depression
In the days following giving birth, many women experience something termed the “baby blues.” They may feel sad, disconnected, or worried for a few days postpartum. However, in some cases, these feelings persist for weeks or even months. When that happens, it’s called postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is a mental health condition brought on by extreme hormonal and chemical changes in the brain during and after birth. It is similar to clinical depression but can have unique symptoms. Signs of this condition include:
- Feeling angry or irritable
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Eating more or less than usual
- Feeling disconnected from reality or yourself
- Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- Feeling disconnected from or apathetic towards your newborn
- Lack of interest in caring for your baby
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
These symptoms can also occur before your child’s birth or during pregnancy. When this happens, it’s called perinatal depression. The signs of perinatal depression are similar to those of postpartum depression.
It’s important to remember that neither of these conditions is caused by a flaw in the mother. If you are pregnant or have recently given birth, know that these feelings are common. One in eight mothers report symptoms of depression during pregnancy or within a year after birth. There is nothing you should have done differently to prevent it, and it doesn’t mean you are a bad mother. Perinatal and postpartum depression are caused by major hormone fluctuations, genetic predispositions, and the stress of pregnancy and motherhood.
Feeling anxious about the health of your baby, giving birth, or motherhood is normal, especially for first-time mothers. However, sometimes, feelings of anxiety can persist for long periods of time or have intense spikes. When anxiety symptoms hinder your daily activities or cause extreme distress, you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder brought on by pregnancy and motherhood.
Anxiety disorders vary in symptoms and severity. Some possible signs of an anxiety disorder include:
- Racing thoughts
- Elevated heart rate
- Sweating, shaking, and hyperventilating
- Feelings of being in danger or of impending doom
- Nausea, vomiting, or other gastrointestinal issues
- Constant worrying
- Feeling out of control
- Being on edge or jumpy
- Taking precautions against unlikely situations
- Trouble sleeping
Some symptoms may be specific to pregnancy and birth, such as:
- Constant worry about the baby’s health
- Making unnecessary doctor visits to check on the baby
- Obsessive research on childbirth and motherhood
- Feeling as if something bad will happen during birth
Excessive anxiety during pregnancy can be harmful not only to you but to your baby as well. Anxiety can increase the risk of premature birth and affect the baby’s weight. It also means that your child may have a higher risk of mental health issues later in life. Because of this, it’s important that you get professional help managing feelings of anxiety during pregnancy. Therapy, self-care, and mindfulness practices can all be helpful for coping with and decreasing anxiety.
This is a very serious and severe mental health condition that affects only one out of every 1,000 new mothers. Though it is rare, it can happen. Postpartum psychosis (PPP) is a type of psychosis that develops within a few days of giving birth but can also occur up to six weeks postpartum.
PPP is an extremely dangerous and distressing condition for both the victim and those around them. Someone with PPP will experience delusions and hallucinations that are often violent or disturbing in nature. Delusions are thoughts and beliefs that do not align with reality. For example, you may believe that you are being followed, watched, or that someone is out to get you. Hallucinations are sensory perceptions (sights, sounds, smells, or physical sensations) that are not real. An example of a hallucination would be seeing people or hearing voices that aren’t there. It can be very difficult for someone with PPP to distinguish what is real and what is fake, which can be extremely distressing.
Mothers with PPP may also exhibit symptoms other symptoms, such as:
- Rapid mood swings
- Sleep disturbances
- Memory and other cognitive issues
- Irritability and/or aggressive behavior
The biggest concern with the development of PPP is that the mother will cause harm to herself or her baby. Delusions and hallucinations that happen in a psychotic state can lead the victim to do things they wouldn’t normally do. They may be compelled to physically hurt themselves or their newborn. The safety of the mother and child is paramount in these situations.
Because it is difficult for someone in a psychotic state to recognize and control their condition, family members, spouses, and friends should be aware of the signs of PPP. Mothers are often in a vulnerable state in the days and weeks after giving birth. A strong support system is vital not only to aid in the care of the mother and newborn but also to watch for signs of postpartum mental health issues.
The Mental Strain of Birth, Pregnancy and Motherhood
If you haven’t experienced any of the above complications of pregnancy and motherhood, that’s wonderful. The goal is always for you and your baby to be happy, healthy, and cared for. However, even when everything goes right, the process of bringing life into the world and raising a child still isn’t easy. You may have a happy, healthy baby but still feel a mental strain.
This is completely normal, and it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad mother. Parenting is challenging, frustrating, and exhausting. It can be even more so for mothers; you’ve just carried a human being inside you for nine months and then pushed it out with nothing more than your own strength! And now you have to feed, clothe, change, and play with your baby for years to come. While the experience is beautiful and wonderful, it is also extremely mentally strenuous.
This is where having a strong support system is vital for new mothers. Reach out to your parents, siblings, and friends to lend you a hand during this challenging time. Asking for help can feel like you’re admitting that you can’t take care of your child on your own, but no one can do it alone! It takes a village, and your village will be happy to support you. If you can’t reach out to friends and family for any reason, look for local resources and groups to build a support system from scratch. There are often new parent social groups or free childcare assistance programs available if you look for them.
Above all, know that just because you became a mother doesn’t mean you stopped being an individual. You and your mental health matter. Taking time and space to nurture yourself is not selfish; it’s essential.
If you or your partner is struggling with mental health issues related to pregnancy and motherhood, you’re not alone. These experiences are painfully common, but help is available. Whether you’re dealing with grief, depression, anxiety, PTSD, or another challenge, Avery Lane can give you the support you need to heal. We have created a safe and empowering space for women to come together and share their experiences. You can find the treatment and the community you have been searching for with us. You don’t have to go through this alone. We are here to help. Call Avery Lane Women’s Rehab at (800) 270-2406 to get started on your healing journey.