This past year has been particularly difficult for new mothers with extreme restrictions in antenatal hospital visits, during labour and around postnatal care .
Pre pandemic statistics show that around one in five women will experience mental health issues during pregnancy or during the first year after giving birth. There can be pressure to feel excited and happy about the birth of a baby and the impression out there can be that becoming a mother is easy and that everyone copes in the same way.
Add to this the restrictions around fathers being present in the hospital, labouring alone in many cases, and the reduction in supports from family and friends when mother and baby arrive home as fear around covid has made this much more difficult for new mothers. I believe that the impact on maternal mental health over the past 15 months is enormous and we have only just begun to hear about women's traumatic experiences. These women will be processing the trauma for many years to come.
When a baby is born, a mother is also born! Becoming a mother is the biggest life change a woman can go through- it changes our own identity, our lifestyle and our relationships.
It is normal for there to be a period of adjustment to having a new baby including feeling weepy, anxious, tired and irritable for a few weeks after giving birth. Some of this can be attributed to the hormonal changes a woman experiences after birth and some to the adjustment to being responsible for another human being. However, if these feelings persist or worsen after a few weeks or months, it is possible for postnatal depression to set in. Many women may also be experiencing symptoms of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) because of the lack of support from partners, doulas and family and friends during this stressful period of adjustment to motherhood. Common feelings of postnatal depression (PND) are feeling anxious, persistently sad, feeling guilty about not loving the baby enough or feeling unable to cope. A mother suffering from PND will often show signs of anxiety at being left alone with the baby. Others may report feeling unwilling to meet friends and family as they are weepy and /or irritable. There may also be excessive fear around keeping your baby safe from contact with others during this time. For fathers, there are several simple things that can really help a mum going through PND. Exhaustion will exacerbate symptoms of PND as we tend to feel more emotional and unable to cope if we are very tired. Offering to give your partner the chance to nap, bringing her a cup of tea in bed and just acknowledging that you can see how much she is going through can really help. Ask your partner if there is anything you can do to make things easier for her right now. Mothers suffering from PND tend to already feel easily criticised and judged by others because they can often believe they are not coping well with a new baby. Criticising a new mum by saying she is doing too much or too little of anything will not help right now. If you come into your interactions with a mum suffering from PND, remember to be compassionate and non-judgemental. This will set the tone for your conversations and will show that you are coming from a place of support rather than criticism. Sometimes just reflecting back how mum is feeling right now will be what she needs- e.g. ‘You’re saying you feel really anxious right now, is there anything I can do to help you with that?’.
If at any time you feel worried about a mum suffering from PND, speak to your public health nurse and/or G.P. as some additional support by way of counselling and/or medication may be needed for a period of time.
Having experienced birth trauma myself 12 years ago, I know that counselling can really help to release the trauma by providing a non judgemental space to explore your feelings in a gentle way.
If you want restrictions lifted from maternity hospitals to provide better antenatal and postnatal care for mothers and babies, follow Irish Birth Movement on Instagram.