Maternal Mental Health

In honour of World Maternal Mental Health Day on Thursday May 5, 2022, and Maternal Mental Health Month throughout the month of May, I wanted to take a few moments to acknowledge and talk about Maternal Mental Health. In addition to being a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, I have also been a Mental Health and Addiction Clinician for almost 12 years, and I’m currently working on a certificate in Perinatal Mental Health. I believe that Mental Health is always an important topic, and Maternal Mental Health specifically is a very important topic that deserves discussion and awareness!

Why Maternal Mental Health?

Maternal Mental Health issues are more common than many people may realize, and they impact many mothers worldwide.  In Canada, 20% of mothers will experience a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (these are mental health issues that may arise during pregnancy and in the postpartum period). These number have increased during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

An interesting study conducted in 2018, published through the Journal of Psychiatric Practice showed that Mothers of Twins/Multiples face higher rates of Postpartum mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, when compared to mothers of single babies.

Other studies have shown that sleep deprivation significantly impacts maternal mental health and functioning.

It’s also important to mention that there are many other moms out there who do not necessarily meet the criteria for Postpartum Anxiety/Depression, but they still may be experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety than they typically would experience.

These results tell us that many moms are struggling, and it’s really important that moms/caregivers have the right supports in place to take care of their own mental health, while they’re also taking care of little one(s)!

What Can We Do?

Now that we know more about the prevalence of Maternal Mental Health Issues, let’s shift and look at what we can do to help so that we can ensure moms needs are being met!

We can encourage moms to reach out to personal and professional supports if they are struggling

Reaching out for support can be a very important step in someone’s journey to feeling better and feeling more like themselves again. This support can be through a combination of professional and personal supports. Professional supports may be through a family doctor, a professional specializing in Perinatal Mood Disorders (such as a therapist, a social worker, a nurse, psychiatrist, etc).  Personal supports may be through family/friends, who are understanding and available to connect. Building a support network can truly make the world of a difference to those who are struggling.

We can encourage moms to engage in self care

If you’re a mom, you might be thinking “I don’t have time for self-care!”. I know the feeling! I’m sure you are very tight for time and it can seem so hard to fit in time for yourself! But, it’s so important for your overall health, and mental health that you take some time to focus on taking care of yourself as well. You have probably heard the phrase “you can’t pour from an empty cup” and that couldn’t be more true when it comes to taking care of your family. If you do not have the energy and resources to take care of yourself, it will be impossible to take care of others. I encourage you to try to incorporate some time for your own self-care, even on the days that are busy and hard! Self-care doesn’t have to be an hour-long massage (although that sounds lovely!) it can be as simple as having 15 minutes to yourself to do something that makes you feel good. It’s important for you to find something that works well for you, and makes you feel good – every person will be different with this! For one person, it may be getting out for a walk, for someone else, it might be enjoying a hot cup of coffee, getting outside in nature, reading a book for 10 minutes, or listening to music. Regardless of what it is for you, find some time to incorporate self-care into your day, so that you can prioritize yourself, your needs, and your mental health!

We can encourage moms to share some of their responsibilities with their partner, family members, or friends

I know that when it comes to being a mom, you have a lot on your plate! You may feel like you are constantly juggling a million different things at once! While this can be the norm for you, it can also be the norm to share these responsibilities with others, so that you don’t feel the immense pressure of taking care of everything all by yourself! It’s okay to ask for help, and let others know what is helpful for you! When you are able to share some of the load with others, it can help to take some of the pressure off of yourself, so that you can focus on taking care of you.

We can encourage moms to get solid stretches of sleep when possible with the help of family, friends, partners, or professionals

Given that sleep deprivation can significantly impact maternal mental health, it’s also important to focus on mom’s getting adequate sleep!  Now I know that this may seem impossible, especially in those early newborn days when you’re feeding around the clock, and when you might be dealing with many night wakings. This is where it may make sense to ask for help from your partner, family members, friends, or even professionals like a night nanny, a doula, or a sleep consultant! Sometimes parents may take different shifts in the night by handling feeds and night wakings, so that each parent can get a solid stretch of sleep. Or maybe a family member can come over and take care of your little one while you get some rest. Sleep is so important for your mental health, your physical health, your recovery from childbirth, and your ability to function overall!

Maternal Mental Health is an important topic to discuss and promote in our society. Moms often carry multiple responsibilities and pressures, which can affect their overall mental health, functioning, and the family! Making sure that moms have access to the right supports, engaging in self-care strategies, focusing on adequate sleep, and sharing some of their responsibilities can help to improve and promote maternal mental health!

Jillian Thistel is a mom of three little ones – she has a son and twin daughters! Jillian is also a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, and has been a Mental Health and Addiction Clinician, supporting clients and families for almost 12 years. She became interested in pediatric sleep after having her twin girls and learning about the unique challenges often associated with twins’ sleep. Jillian created Twinkling Stars Pediatric Sleep Consulting to help families achieve better sleep, so that the whole family can flourish!

Jillian offers a variety of sleep support services for families with children ages 0-4 years old, focusing on each family’s unique needs, supporting & empowering parents, decreasing stress levels associated with sleep struggles, and offering a gentle, flexible, compassionate approach.

Jillian has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology, a Graduate Certificate in Addictions and Mental Health, and she is currently working on a certificate in Perinatal Mental Health. She lives in the Greater Toronto Area in Ontario Canada with her husband, 3 children, and 2 dogs.

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