Want to help new families? Start by supporting mothers’ mental health

Statistics say one thing about postpartum mood disorders, but social media can say another.

Want to help new families? Start by supporting mothers’ mental health

"Are you just loving being a mommy?" my friend asked me, cradling my newborn son in her arms.

The words lingered between us as I pursed my lips and tried to figure out how to respond. My son was 4 weeks old, and I wasn't sure what I was feeling except tired, overwhelmed and numb. I knew the socially acceptable answer was a gushing "Yes! It's the best." But that felt hollow and foreign, so instead I broke the tension by saying, "Ask me on a day when I've had more than three hours of sleep."

Four long months later I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety. With the right support, education and combination of medication and therapy, I began to emerge from the dark cloud that hung over my transition to motherhood.


Even as I started to heal, I felt alone in my experience with an emotionally challenging postpartum experience. There didn't seem to be any space for me in the common narrative of motherhood. In a world of gushing Instagram posts about "bundles of joy" and "lives changed for the better," my story of grief and losing myself just didn't seem to fit into this happy mold.

Statistics say one thing about postpartum mood disorders, social media says another

I felt like I couldn't identify with the blissful messages of joy other new moms were sharing on social media, the place where I found myself spending a lot of time as I was physically homebound in the early days of learning to care of a newborn.

But while I may have felt alone in my emotionally challenging postpartum experience, I certainly wasn't: Postpartum mood disorders are one of the most common complications of childbirth, affecting one in seven new moms, according to the American Psychological Association. While the medical community and society at large have made huge strides in recognizing and treating maternal mental health conditions, there is still quite a bit of work to be done to support mothers.

"This is a huge life transition, becoming a mom. We treat it in common culture like it should just be easy and blissful and the most natural thing in the world," says Kate Rope, author of the book Strong As a Mother, a guide to prioritizing mom's health and wellbeing during pregnancy and postpartum.

After Rope's own rough transition to motherhood 11 years ago, she was inspired to normalize the range of experiences someone might encounter and to offer solutions for the way forward.

"When you're expecting a baby, you may have a ton of books on your nightstand and none of them are about you," Rope says. "A lot of them are filled with strongly worded and conflicting advice, and it's all focused on baby, almost like you're producing a product."

During pregnancy, moms are inundated with information about how best to optimize their developing baby's health, Rope explains, from what to eat, to what medications are off-limits to playing music for the baby in the womb to foster brain development. That string of advice carries over once baby is born and becomes part of a larger message that a mom's needs are secondary, she says.

"It becomes this virtue of perfection that is not realistic," Rope says. "We've decided that any cost to mom is worth enduring to reduce medical risks for baby."

Rope stresses the need to recognize that a mom's well-being is central to positive outcomes for her children, saying "we need to look at them as a unit with as much kindness and compassion for the mom as for the baby."

Rethinking the care for mothers

To start, we need increased access to mental health services and specifically, professionals who specialize in maternal mental health, says Rope.

We also need better structures in place to help identify and support moms who may be struggling: While the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends providers screen women for depression both during pregnancy and postpartum, that is often left to obstetricians and gynecologists. However, mothers are more likely to encounter their child's pediatrician in the early months, notes Carly Snyder, a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist based in New York City.

Some pediatricians are catching on—in fact, it was my son's pediatrician who recognized my symptoms and encouraged me to get help. Yet, Snyder says more training is necessary to help these doctors be equipped to refer women to mental health providers.

"It can be tricky for a provider to screen, but then not know where to send someone," Snyder says. "There needs to be more general education for medical students, OBs, pediatricians. Everyone needs a basic understanding of perinatal mood disorders. It's coming, but we're not there yet."

Recognizing the link between physical and emotional postpartum recovery

One of the most common misconceptions about postpartum mood disorders is that depression is the only condition, Snyder says, when in fact people need to be aware of the spectrum of mood disorders and their symptoms, ranging from depression and anxiety to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Any of these can develop during the postpartum period.

Even for those who may not develop a clinical mood disorder, the body undergoes several physical, chemical and hormonal changes during pregnancy, delivery and postpartum, Snyder says—and all of these changes can affect a mom's physical and mental health.

"Delivery takes a huge toll on your body, it's like running several marathons. In our country sadly, women are discharged within a couple days," Snyder says. "So that toll of delivering the baby and running three marathons and caring for the baby isn't alleviated, and then you go home and you're exhausted and it's all a lot. And for those who receive C-sections, that is a major surgery, yet we really don't give women the opportunity to heal."

Brook Bolen, a mom of one living in Asheville, North Carolina, says she felt ashamed by the anxiety and fear she experienced after her child was born, which led her to suffer in silence for nine months.

"The mainstream narrative that we have is that this is a joyous time, and I think that narrative really clouded my understanding," Bolen says. "I didn't know how individual of an experience it is and how many women struggle. I wasn't feeling that joy and it reinforced this notion that I wasn't supposed to do this, that this [motherhood] was a mistake."

Once Bolen sought treatment at the encouragement of a friend and began taking prescribed antidepressants, everything changed she says, and she was able to enjoy her baby. Her daughter is now 5 years old, and while she didn't feel she could talk openly about her experience in the beginning, she says doing so now has helped her find community.

"In the experiences I've had with other mothers, I've learned that many of them may not feel like they can say it publicly, but they will pull you aside and say thank you, I went through that too and no one talks about it," Bolen says.

For Rope, increased awareness about the symptoms of postpartum mood disorders coupled with the willingness to seek treatment helped when she welcomed her second child.

"I've gotten over the hump of thinking it's a selfish pursuit to take care of myself. I now realize it's something I have a right to as a person and that it's good for everybody if I do," Rope says. "As a mom, your mental health matters. You deserve to have the support you need."

Resources and support for postpartum mood disorders are available through Postpartum Support International or via their hotline, 1–800–944–4773.

Originally posted on Medium.

You might also like:

By its very nature, motherhood requires some lifestyle adjustments: Instead of staying up late with friends, you get up early for snuggles with your baby. Instead of spontaneous date nights with your honey, you take afternoon family strolls with your little love. Instead of running out of the house with just your keys and phone, you only leave with a fully loaded diaper bag.

For breastfeeding or pumping mamas, there is an additional layer of consideration around when, how and how much your baby will eat. Thankfully, when it comes to effective solutions for nursing or bottle-feeding your baby, Dr. Brown's puts the considerations of mamas and their babies first with products that help with every step of the process—from comfortably adjusting to nursing your newborn to introducing a bottle to efficiently pumping.

With countless hours spent breastfeeding, pumping and bottle-feeding, the editors at Motherly know the secret to success is having dependable supplies that can help you feed your baby in a way that matches lifestyle.

Here are 9 breastfeeding and pumping products to help you no matter what the day holds.

Customflow™ Double Electric Breast Pump

Dr. Brown's electric pump

For efficient, productive pumping sessions, a double electric breast pump will help you get the job done as quickly as possible. Quiet for nighttime pumping sessions and compact for bringing along to work, this double pump puts you in control with fully adjustable settings.


Hands-Free Pumping Bra

Dr. Brown''s hands free pumping bra

Especially in the early days, feeding your baby can feel like a pretty consuming task. A hands-free pumping bra will help you reclaim some of your precious time while pumping—and all mamas will know just how valuable more time can be!


Manual Breast Pump with SoftShape™ Silicone Shield

Dr. Brown's manual breast pump

If you live a life that sometimes takes you away from electrical outlets (that's most of us!), then you'll absolutely want a manual breast pump in your arsenal. With two pumping modes to promote efficient milk expression and a comfort-fitted shield, a manual pump is simply the most convenient pump to take along and use. Although it may not get as much glory as an electric pump, we really appreciate how quick and easy this manual pump is to use—and how liberating it is not to stress about finding a power supply.


Nipple Shields and Sterilization Case

Dr. Brown's nipple shields

There is a bit of a learning curve to breastfeeding—for both mamas and babies. Thankfully, even if there are some physical challenges (like inverted nipples or a baby's tongue tie) or nursing doesn't click right away, silicone nipple shields can be a huge help. With a convenient carry case that can be sterilized in the microwave, you don't have to worry about germs or bacteria either. 🙌


Silicone One-Piece Breast Pump

Dr. Brown's silicone pump

When you are feeding your baby on one breast, the other can still experience milk letdown—which means it's a golden opportunity to save some additional milk. With a silent, hands-free silicone pump, you can easily collect milk while nursing.


Breast to Bottle Pump & Store Feeding Set

After a lifetime of nursing from the breast, introducing a bottle can be a bit of a strange experience for babies. Dr. Brown's Options+™ and slow flow bottle nipples were designed with this in mind to make the introduction to bottles smooth and pleasant for parents and babies. As a set that seamlessly works together from pumping to storing milk to bottle feeding, you don't have to stress about having everything you need to keep your baby fed and happy either.


Washable Breast Pads

washable breast pads

Mamas' bodies are amazingly made to help breast milk flow when it's in demand—but occasionally also at other times. Especially as your supply is establishing or your breasts are fuller as the length between feeding sessions increase, it's helpful to use washable nursing pads to prevent breast milk from leaking through your bra.


Breast Milk Storage Bags

Dr. Brown's milk storage bags

The essential for mamas who do any pumping, breast milk storage bags allow you to easily and safely seal expressed milk in the refrigerator or freezer. Dr. Brown's™ Breast Milk Storage Bags take it even further with extra thick walls that block out scents from other food items and feature an ultra secure lock to prevent leaking.


Watch one mama's review of the new Dr. Brown's breastfeeding line here:

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

Sorry, you can’t meet our baby yet

Thank you for understanding. ❤️

In just over three weeks, we will become parents. From then on, our hearts will live outside of our bodies. We will finally understand what everyone tells you about bringing a child into the world.

Lately, the range of emotions and hormones has left me feeling nothing short of my new favorite mom word, "hormotional." I'm sure that's normal though, and something most people start to feel as everything suddenly becomes real.

Our bags are mostly packed, diaper bag ready, and birth plan in place. Now it's essentially a waiting game. We're finishing up our online childbirth classes which I must say are quite informational and sometimes entertaining. But in between the waiting and the classes, we've had to think about how we're going to handle life after baby's birth.


I don't mean thinking and planning about the lack of sleep, feeding schedule, or just the overall changes a new baby is going to bring. I'm talking about how we're going to handle excited family members and friends who've waited just as long as we have to meet our child. That sentence sounds so bizarre, right? How we're going to handle family and friends? That sentence shouldn't even have to exist.

Keep reading Show less

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play