May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. This year the focus was on talking about IT. IT meaning postpartum depression or any of the mental health issues a person can experience during pregnancy or after birth known as PMADs.
We are also raising awareness about the critical need for funding in the maternal mental health space. Funding to further much needed research into perinatal mental health and funding to make crucial services like perinatal therapy and postpartum doula support easily accessible for the new parents who need it most.
I can definitely attest to this. After my first son was born, I struggled with overwhelming, exhausting and intrusive thoughts. At the time, money was very tight but we desperately needed help. Luckily, I was able to access therapy services through my local university at a reduced rate, which allowed me to get the help and support I needed, without money being a barrier.
That experience coupled with my work as a postpartum doula taught me so much about being postpartum and going through the 4th trimester. It taught me that it is ok to surrender and just be during the 4th trimester. I was so eager to rush through and get back to being and feeling like me again. To get out of how uncomfortable I felt being postpartum and especially all of the physical changes. I didn’t realize that postpartum is simply a process that cannot be rushed.
It also made me get serious about planning and preparing for postpartum. I looked seriously at my situation and lifestyle and thought long and hard about the things I could do to set myself up early on for success. I also thought critically about my risks or areas that needed a little more support and worked to build up my postpartum plan and circle of support in those areas.
How to Identifying and lower your risks for PMADs
1. Take Stock
Taking stock focuses on two areas. The vision and the reality. Take some time to dream big and create a vision for your postpartum recovery. Then you will think about your own personality, lifestyle, financial situation, family structure and you and your partners anticipated needs after birth. What kind of postpartum experience do you truly envision for yourself? How realistic is this vision? And what can you do to make that vision a reality?
2. Maximize your strengths
Note the areas of your vision and your current reality that are already very aligned or that you feel extremely confident in. These are your strengths, and while they may not need as much focus as your risks, its still important to take note of these areas and use them to your advantage. Maybe you and your partner enjoy cooking and have enjoyed learning about postpartum nutrition and prepping meals to aid in postpartum recovery. You plan on batch cooking 3 meals each week to start a freezer stash of healthy and easy postpartum meals to get you through the first 6 weeks.
3. Identifying the areas that need more support
Think about the areas in your vision and reality that aren’t lining up so clearly or that cause you a bit of stress when you start thinking about them. These are your risks or challenges. The areas that need a bit more structure from your plan or circle of support. For example, you and your partner are having disagreements on your desires for infant feeding and this is causing stress between you as a couple. Perhaps you want to exclusively breastfeed/ chestfeed and your partner feels that you should include bottle feeding or even formula so that they can participate in the feeding process. Understanding that this challenge can increase your risk for PMADs or simply be a stressor after birth is the first step in lowering your risks.
4. Create a plan for both
After you have identified your unique risks or challenges and the strengths you can take advantage of, it’s time to create a plan that will help bring your vision for postpartum to be your actual reality. If your goals for infant feeding presents itself as a challenge, what action steps can you take to empower yourself and to build up your postpartum plan in that area? How can your support circle be there for you so that you can achieve your goal? What tools or baby gear do you feel might be helpful in you feeling successful in this area? And what community resources or professionals are experts in this area? How can you make use of the services or resources available to help you thrive in this area?
Your mental health should take top priority when it comes to your postpartum recovery. And one of the best ways to safe guard your mental wellness for the 4th trimester is to have a solid postpartum plan. Especially one that you’ve taken the time out to curate and tweak before and/or during your pregnancy. Sleep deprivation- one of the most common side effects of newborn life- can also be a huge risk factor for postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety or any of the other Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs). And I can promise you that you don’t want to be figuring out your postpartum plan while you are in the thick of IT and sleep deprived.
If you want to learn even more about the baby blues, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders keep scrolling down to check out this Mini Guide I created to empower you with the information you need to know about the Baby Blues and Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders and how you can identify and lower your risks and create the postpartum experience you want and deserve.