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Check on Your New Mom Friends

I became a new mom during the height of a global pandemic – in the summer of 2020 – and I was not okay…

Becoming a new mom is one of the most stressful life changes that can occur. You can read all the books, watch all the videos, and seek all the advice, but absolutely NOTHING prepares you for the moment when you have your baby in your arms, those nurses walk out the door, and you realize that you and you alone are responsible for caring for this little bundle of joy. It’s scary, to say the least. Add in a global pandemic and the social isolation that comes with it, and it’s down-right terrifying.

Hours after my daughter was born, my husband came down with an illness and was forced to leave the hospital (thanks, COVID). Because of COVID protocols, no one was allowed to come stay with me and my newborn in the hospital, which meant I was entirely alone with a new baby I had only met hours before, and was now called to take care of while also trying to care for myself and my body that had just gone through the traumatic experience of 14 hours of labor. During those two days in the hospital, I cried, attempted (unsuccessfully) to breastfeed, cried some more, changed all the diapers, and cried some more. I didn’t sleep for 48 hours straight after my daughter was born. Yes, you read that right. It wasn’t that I got poor sleep for 48 hours, I literally did not sleep one wink for 48 hours straight. By the time they released me to go home two days later, I was in the worst state of mental health I had ever been in my entire life.

Fortunately, when I was finally home with my husband and the rest of my support system, and was able to (very slowly) catch up on sleep between feedings and diaper changes, my mental health challenges began to wane. However, too many new caregivers are not so lucky.

Maternal mental health conditions are the most common complication of pregnancy and childbirth, affecting 1 in 5 women and childbearing people during the perinatal timeframe (during pregnancy and first year postpartum). Of the 4 million people who give birth each year in the United States, 800,000 will be impacted by these illnesses. Left untreated, these illnesses can have long-term negative impact on parents, babies, family, and society. Fortunately, maternal mental health conditions are often temporary and treatable.

As we are nearing the end of Mental Health Awareness Month in May, it’s important to lift up the realities for thousands of new moms and caregivers across the country as they grapple with the changing biology and environment that comes with being a new mom. Despite the increased rates, 75% of mothers impacted by maternal mental health conditions go untreated. Fortunately, we ALL have a role to play in the health and well-being of new mothers.

Check out these 3 ways YOU can support a new mom or caregiver:
1. Encourage and support them in their self-care efforts: Many new parents need care and support to recover from the physical and emotional demands of pregnancy and childbirth. Being a new parent, caring for a newborn, and maintaining a home and family are challenging, especially if the new parent feels anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed. You can encourage and assist them in their self care efforts by “splitting” the nightshift and allowing the new parent to get an uninterrupted 4-5 hours of sleep, do some yoga or light stretching with them, bring a basket of snacks and water they can grab and consume while feeding the baby, or take the baby in another room for 15 minutes so they can take a warm, soothing bath.
2. Be there for them: New parents need to know they are loved and valued. Social support from family, friends, doulas, neighbors, faith community, and more is integral to ensuring new parents are cared for and supported. You can be a social support for new parents by providing encouragement, showing empathy, reassuring them that they are not alone, preparing a meal, or running errands for them.
3. Encourage them to seek therapy/counseling: When maternal mental health conditions are a concern, it is best to encourage the new parent to talk to their doctor about their feelings and symptoms. They will often recommend a more intensive treatment, such as counseling/therapy or medications. It may be helpful for them to talk through their concerns with a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional. Through therapy, they can find better ways to cope with feelings, solve problems, set realistic goals, and respond to situations in a positive way.

More than anything, check on your new mom friends. They need to know you are there and ready to support them through this tumultuous (and joyous!) time in their lives. For more information on maternal mental health concerns, check out Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance and view their Steps to Wellness fact sheet.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) launched the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline – 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS. This free, confidential support hotline is available 24/7 to pregnant women and new moms in both English and Spanish.