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Navigating the Complexities of Maternal Mental Health: A Journey of Love, Struggle, and Support

"I am so grateful for the birth of my son. He is 3 months old and is growing every day. His smile brightens my day, his laugh quenches my loneliness, his tears teach me the importance of patience, his stares make me feel like a queen walking in her kingdom, his smell brings me peace, his heartbeat matches mine, showing how connected we are. I adore my son; I adore the woman he's helping me become. With all this said, why do I still feel lost and empty? Why do I want to stay in bed? Why do I look at him and think he would be better without me? Why do I feel like a terrible mother? Why do I want to give up? Why am I unhappy? Why, why, why am I blessed... or cursed with motherhood?"

woman with hand on window of raindrops

These are thoughts and feelings from a real mother. A friend of mine who is so thankful for the birth of her son, especially after having a stillbirth 3 years ago. I know she is ecstatic about being a mother, but like many women, she is experiencing real and valid thoughts about motherhood.


When a woman starts on the journey to become a mother, everything changes. Changes to the body are something many people can identify with as part of pregnancy and motherhood, but there are deeper, more impacting changes to her as a woman, partner, sister, independent woman, daughter, and friend.


As a pelvic physical therapist who works with mothers daily, I see the challenges motherhood brings a woman, whether it is her first child or eighth. There are changes in a wide variety of areas such as hormones, the anatomical structure of the pelvis and surrounding muscles, family dynamics, finances, relationships with friends, family, and partners, freedom, responsibilities, and mental health, to name a few. As a mother of a newborn child, there is a battle between emotions that are hard to decipher or balance, with quick fluctuations of joy, happiness, frustration, feelings of overwhelm, and appreciation. Research has found that maternal mental health is not just an individual concern but has far-reaching implications for the child's emotional, cognitive, and social development.


Postpartum mood disorders (PPD) are more prevalent than commonly perceived. PPD alone affects around 10-20% of new mothers worldwide. Risk factors include:

  • Hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, quickly decline after delivery and remain low depending on breastfeeding, which impacts mood regulation conducted in the brain.

  • Previous maternal mental health history can highlight and exacerbate following changes in mood-regulating hormones.

  • Social and environmental support act as a protective buffer; however, in situations where there are strained relationships or a lack of support, mothers have an increased risk of developing postpartum mood disorders.


Simple and quick tips for mental health management include:

  1. Diaphragmatic Breathing - A simple method used commonly in yoga practices, also known as belly or abdominal breathing. This type of breathing contributes to respiratory sufficiency, sleep, exercise tolerance, and stress. The movement of the diaphragm indirectly affects the whole-body system, triggering nerves responsible for cardiovascular, respiratory, and GI function. Research has found that diaphragmatic breathing can assist with improvement in blood pressure control and stress assessment levels.

  2. Communication - Find someone you trust who can listen, comfort, and provide honest and caring support.

  3. Journaling - Through psychotherapy, journaling is sometimes suggested to help people bring their thoughts to a tangible item for better understanding and reflection.

  4. Mental Health Counseling - Pertinent to help develop valuable coping techniques and methods to empower and enable mothers to manage their symptoms more effectively and cultivate a more optimistic outlook on their journey through motherhood.

  5. Support Groups - Friends and family are not enough sometimes, and that's okay. Support groups have people who are experiencing very similar situations.

  6. Talk to Your Doctor - Primary physicians can provide opportunities for treatment, including medication, or referral to specialists for postpartum disorders.


Our mothers need more support from the medical community, friends, and families. There are a few things we can do to help these mothers who are sisters, friends, co-workers, daughters, employees, wives, or girlfriends. The most simplistic thing to do is ASK: Do you feel supported as a mother? What can I do to support you as a mother?



Maternal mental health is important and needs to be a priority for anyone who knows a mother! And we've gotcha covered. IVY Integrative, you can work with one practitioner or build your own team of holistic practitioners! Reach your optimum health in-person or online. Check out our Get Started page to learn how to work with us!










References:

  1. Modak A, Ronghe V, Gomase KP, Mahakalkar MG, Taksande V. A Comprehensive Review of Motherhood and Mental Health: Postpartum Mood Disorders in Focus. Cureus. 2023 Sep 29;15(9):e46209. doi: 10.7759/cureus.46209. PMID: 37905286; PMCID: PMC10613459.

  2. Hamasaki H. Effects of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Health: A Narrative Review. Medicines (Basel). 2020 Oct 15;7(10):65. doi: 10.3390/medicines7100065. PMID: 33076360; PMCID: PMC7602530.



Disclaimer: This information is generalized and intended for educational purposes only. Due to potential individual contraindications, please see your primary care provider before implementing any strategies in these posts.

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