Article by Dr. Shradha Shejekar, Consultant – Psychiatrist, Aster RV Hospital, JP Nagar, Bengaluru
Pregnancy is one of the most beautiful phases in a woman’s life. At the same time, it is a phase which brings a lot of changes in the body physically, hormonally and emotionally. This is why the mother is susceptible to a lot of mental health issues. Many factors can predispose a new mother to mental health issues, including hormonal changes, feelings of incompetence to care for or breastfeed the baby, weight gain and body image concerns, baby health concerns, job related concerns, health complications during pregnancy, lack of sleep, excessive work load or a genetic predisposition to mental health issues.
Most of the common mental health issues seen during or after pregnancy are a persistent low mood or unusually happy mood, low self-esteem, sleep disturbance, lack of motivation to carry out daily activities. Additionally, a mother may find it difficult to bath or feed the baby, may feel unhappy about the pregnancy or birth of her child and may take poor care of the self and of the baby. She may feel anxious about whether she will be able to give good care to the baby, or adequately breastfeed, if she will be able to get back in shape or if her life will ever go back to her pre-pregnancy days. In certain severe cases, a mother may also report hearing unusual voices or sounds or seeing unusual things even when it is not there, that is hallucinations. Some rare cases may even have a tendency to increased suspicion, delusion, unusually feeling threatened or fear being harmed, and even thoughts to harm the baby. Most people suppress such emotions or avoid talking about it which could lead to long term harm.
Support from society and family and ensuring that the mother has help available to her whenever required is important to help her cope with her mental health. Knowledge is power, and the more you understand about your partner’s changing body, how it may influence their mental and physical states, and what kinds of problems they may be encountering, the more you will be able to aid and support them. The same is true for your baby’s healthy growth and how to prepare for labor and afterwards. Talking to someone you trust about the problem helps. Talking to others about how you’re feeling may be a great relief and serve as a reminder that you’re not alone. Some women utilize pregnancy forums on the internet. You’ll probably discover that other people are going through similar things, and you could get some helpful ideas on how to cope with any issues. You may also find it beneficial to discuss your feelings with your midwife or doctor. Apart from that society must also take some proactive measures by watching out for a new mother. If a mother around you has any of the above predisposing factors, or if you recognize any changes in behavior during or after pregnancy as listed above, help her share her concerns with any other family member.
Additionally, ensure that she has access to a healthy diet and good sleep and help her consult a psychiatrist at the earliest. While diet and sleep are vital for recovery, this alone is not enough and these mothers require quick psychiatric intervention in the form of medications and therapy. Many mothers are concerned about the side effects of medication on the baby (while breastfeeding), but the good news is that science has developed quite safe medications which can be dosed and timed in ways that would not interfere with the breastfeeding, simultaneously helping mothers to quickly recover and enjoy motherhood.