Pregnancy and childbirth can trigger more than just changes in your body. Your mental well-being can be affected by fluctuating hormones that trigger all kinds of emotions. While 4 in 5 new parents go through mild mood changes, including the baby blues, as many as 1 in 5 develop more serious mental health issues.
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health conditions affect how you feel, think and act. They can interfere with your daily life. Depression is an example of a mental health condition. Depression causes feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in things you like to do. It’s a medical condition that needs treatment to get better. Anxiety, or excessive worrying, is another example.
Recognizing the signs
According to the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance, pregnant women having mental health issues might say:
- Having a baby was a mistake.
- I’m not bonding with my baby.
- I’m afraid to be alone with my baby.
- I’m exhausted, but I can’t sleep, even when my baby sleeps.
- I’m such a bad mother. My baby would be better off without me.
How mental health issues can affect your baby
It’s important to treat mental health issues that occur during pregnancy. Mothers who are depressed, anxious or have other mental health issues might not take care of themselves, or they may use drugs or alcohol during the pregnancy. All of these things can harm a growing baby. In fact, untreated depression in pregnant women may also lead to:
- Poor nutrition
- Ideas of suicide
- Health complications, such as high blood pressure or diabetes
- Prolonged or premature labor
- Breastfeeding issues
- Bonding issues between mother and baby
And, babies born to depressed mothers are more likely to:
- Have a low birthweight
- Be at higher risk of developing health issues like rash, vomiting and diarrhea
- Have a small head
- Stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) longer
- Cry a lot
Later in life, children of women with mental health issues are at higher risk of experiencing developmental issues and behavioral problems.
People of color experience higher rates of depression during pregnancy
Parents of every race, culture, age and income level can develop a mental health condition. However, recent research shows that women of color suffer from depression during pregnancy more often than pregnant white people. More specifically, as many as 54% of Latinas (about 1 of 2 people) and up to 28% of Black women (more than 1 out of 4 people) in the United States have experienced pregnancy-related depression. In addition, Black women and women living in poverty are more likely to develop postpartum depression and are less likely to get help for the condition.
Reasons for this include health disparities, such as:
- Trouble finding healthcare, including culturally appropriate mental health care
- Trouble getting care, such as lack of transportation or childcare
- Cultural and racial biases in the healthcare system
- Fear that child protective services or immigration agencies will get involved
If you suffer from mental health issues while pregnant, these symptoms may get worse after your baby is born. Symptoms can show up any time during the 12 months after giving birth.
You don’t have to suffer in silence. There are many treatments available to you, including:
- Prescription medicine
- Therapy with a mental health specialist
- Alternative treatments, like acupuncture (tiny needles inserted into key points of your body)
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches you how to look at negative thoughts in a different way
- Mindfulness techniques to help you focus your thoughts and feelings in the moment
- Online or in-person support groups
If you think you’re suffering from a mental health issue, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
If you’re ever worried about hurting yourself or your baby, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.