Maternal Mental Health Awareness & Tips

newborn and depressed mom
Christine Brown

Christine Brown

In honor of Maternal Mental Health Week and as Moms ourselves, the Bella Luna team has put together our top maternal mental health tips to help YOU with the postpartum period. 

As you know or will know soon, having a baby or babies, is the most dramatic and profound change a person will ever experience.  

When we become parents, we transition from only being responsible for ourselves to being in charge of the physical, mental and emotional development and wellbeing of another person!   Every decision we make from here on out will be colored by a parental lens. 

We are bestowed the great responsibility of keeping our babies alive (where is the instruction manual?), helping them to thrive and to eventually grow up to be good people.  On top of that, many of us are navigating this time period with another parenting novice, which can strain a marriage/relationship.

This may be the understatement of the year – this is a lot of pressure and change in a short period of time!

Then you add in hormones from pregnancy, sleep deprivation and learning to nurse/feed your little one. 

Sprinkle in a million pieces of advice coming in from everywhere.

And the cherry on top is comparing our experience to the highlight reels that others are showing on social media.

All of this makes for a postpartum period that can feel a lot like a rollercoaster ride – physically, mentally and emotionally. 

On the upside, we feel elated. We experience the deepest love for our baby and every squeak is the cutest thing we’ve ever heard. We feel our natural instincts kick in and we profoundly know we were meant to be our baby’s mother.  We’ve got this!

At the bottom, the world can seem heavy. It’s common to feel bone tired and touched out.  You may feel confused, lonely, insecure, anxious and down. 

We can feel crushed by the weight of the responsibility and we can mourn the loss of our pre-baby life. 

You may not feel especially bonded to our baby – after all, you just met this new person.    

We didn’t expect our bodies to look or feel the way they do now.  Lingering pain from labor and delivery can be a reality. 

Foreign, unimaginable thoughts can creep into our heads. 

We can think “what have I done?!”

And then the crushing guilt of not feeling the way we are ‘supposed’ to feel sets in.

Both of these experiences – the highs and the lows – are within the range of NORMAL. A combination of both the light and the dark can be a part of the same postpartum experience. 

The darker side of the postpartum period can range from the baby blues to postpartum psychosis. Feeling off during the postpartum period isn’t a character flaw – it’s NORMAL. 1 in 5 women experiences some type of postpartum mood disturbance. 

The goal of these maternal mental help tips is to help you stay more in the light side of motherhood, but also to provide you with resources if you aren’t feeling like yourself. 

Remember, what you are experiencing is NORMAL, help is available and you will feel like yourself again! 

Postpartum Maternal Mental Health Tips

Tip #1 from Brianne:  Accept Normal Newborn Sleep Patterns

I was a couple of weeks postpartum and I distinctly remember wondering when my tiny newborn son was going to “give me” a decent stretch of sleep. HA! That was obviously not happening anytime soon.

One of my biggest tips to new, tired parents is to accept that newborn sleep is erratic! Setting this expectation is so important. Newborns will likely be up and ready to party from 3-4 am. They will sleep a lot but wake often. And they will most likely NOT give you a good stretch of sleep, right when you want it.  This is all NORMAL and HEALTHY.

So while we can’t force a newborn to do something that is not developmentally appropriate, we can still find healthy ways to problem solve…such as tag-teaming with your partner, family member, night nurse or trusted friend to get a longer stretch of sleep. Let someone take over feeding and a few hours of snuggle time so that you can get some much-needed rest.

After I fed Greyson around 8 pm, I pumped a bottle for Jeff to feed him at his next feeding so that I didn’t have to wake. Once we figured this out and got into a new routine, I was able to count on a longer stretch of sleep each day. What a game-changer!

Acceptance, realistic expectations and coming up with a plan together can make all the difference.

Tip #2 from Brianne: Know the Warning Signs of a Perinatal Mood Disorder

It’s vital that you and your partner know and can recognize the signs of a perinatal mood disorder. This is how you will be able to advocate for yourself and get the help you need and deserve.

After I had my son, my husband and I did not recognize that I was experiencing symptoms of Postpartum Depression. We knew something was off, but sadly thought this was our new normal. The longer we waited and hoped it would get better, it got worse. Thankfully, someone else in our support system stepped in and we eventually got help.

Here are just a few warning signs:

  • Feeling irritable and angry
  • Upsetting thoughts you can’t get out of your mind
  • Problems eating or sleeping
  • Hopelessness or numbness
  • Persistent doubts about your ability to care for your baby and/or constantly thinking about the safety of the baby 

Please remember, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms you are 1 in 5 women. This is not your fault and this is not forever. Do not be afraid to reach out to your doctor, therapist and support system. They can get you the help you truly need during this time, mama!

Postpartum Support International is an amazing resource to learn more about the different perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and associated symptoms as well as resources where you can get help. 

Tip #3 from Renee: Ask For and Accept Help From Family and Friends

I share this tip so you don’t make the same mistake I did.  When I had my twins, I refused to ask for or accept help at first.   Not with my girls, not with the house, not with taking care of myself – nothing.

I thought…

This is what being a mom is.

God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.

I should be able to do it all. 

Oh, how I look back and wish I had done it differently. I could have taken better care of myself.  It is MORE THAN OK to need help.  No one can do everything alone.

Your life has just changed dramatically. Your hormones are all over the place. And a tiny human or tiny humans are relying on you to take care of them. Heck, not only is it more than ok to ask for help, you NEED help. 

I remember the first time I let my mom help me by watching the girls so I could shower. That may have been the longest shower I have ever taken.  That was me time. It was quiet and for a few minutes and I didn’t have to worry about anything.

That experience changed my perspective on what asking for help meant. It didn’t mean I was weak or I was failing. It gave me an opportunity to take care of myself and reset and THAT made me a better mom.

Tip #4 from Renee: Reset Your Expectations

When you get home from the hospital and are settling into life at home – take the time to reset your expectations of what your home will look like for the foreseeable future.

There will be dishes in the sink. There will be laundry for days and there will be toys and mats and diapers and bottles everywhere. Let it go and accept that this is your happy chaos. 

– Renee

There will be time for dishes and laundry. And if there’s not – refer to tip #3.

Remember, your main job right now is to take care of yourself. Rest when you can. Snuggle with your little one and take in every sweet moment you can.

Tip #5 from Christine:  Lean on Mommy Friends

As I am writing this, we are in the midst of Covid-19. This makes face-to-face Mommy friend support difficult, but PLEASE pick up the phone or hop on Zoom. 

It is important to connect with other women who are in the same phase of life that you are.  They understand how you feel and your experiences.  Mom friends will help to normalize your feelings. They will also be a great source of support through the ups and downs.  Plus they can laugh with you when you get pooped on from a blowout or your son pees in your face during a diaper change!

If you don’t have Mom friends yet – put yourself out there.  Mommy-n-me groups, new mom groups at the hospital, baby yoga classes, and maternal wellness centers are all great places to find Moms you connect with.  And the best part?  You already have something in common so it’s way easier to make friends!

Equally important is connecting with veteran Mom friends.  The moms that have been there, done that.  They will give you sage, time-tested advice. They will also <gently> tell you to chill out and stop worrying about the pimple on your baby’s chest. 

Tip #6 from Christine: Ask the Sleep Experts

If sleep is driving you crazy, you have a million questions and you aren’t sure what normal is, PLEASE schedule a newborn sleep consultation.  Let us share our wisdom with you and help you take the pressure off newborn sleep.

We provide you with knowledge and a toolkit to work on developing healthy sleep habits once your baby is ready. Readiness happens right around the 6-8 weeks mark when your baby starts smiling at you.

Before then, do whatever you need to do to safely promote sleep for you and your little one, including:

  • Enjoy the snuggles and don’t worry about holding your baby for naps
  • Keep awake windows short – 45 – 60 minutes max
  • Feed at least every 2.5 – 3 hours during the day so your newborn is meeting their daytime nutritional needs
  • Know that sleep is a hot mess at first. Newborns take naps around the clock for the first 6-8 weeks. This means you will be awake in the night – frequently.  Acceptance helps!
  • A 15-minute nap is as normal as a 3-hour nap.  Not all naps will be long and that is ok!

Hang in there, mama!  You’ve got this!  And if you need help, there are resources that are available to support you through this extraordinary time!

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