May is Maternal Mental Health month: a month in which we honor the journey of birthing people and shine a light on the ways that we can do better for them. Something I frequently repeat to the folks in our pregnancy support group is,
“‘It takes a village’ can’t stop with baby. We need to have a village to support and raise parents, too.”
Mental Health as a New Parent
Becoming a parent is undoubtedly one of the most transformative experiences a person can embody. During pregnancy, we shower new parents with gifts and advice (both welcomed and unsolicited), and parents prepare their homes by painting nurseries and building cribs. In the midst of all the excitement, we often forget to focus on supporting the transformation of the folks becoming parents.
The World Health Organization states that 10 percent of pregnant women experience prenatal depression, postpartum depression, or another type of mood disorder, such as anxiety or OCD. That 10% is likely an underrepresentation, since maternal mental health issues are frequently underreported, missed, and mistreated. A 2017 study found that nearly one third of women experience trauma while giving birth. When naming the reasons why, they named a lack or loss of control, fear for their baby’s life or health, severe physical pain, and not enough communication from the provider as reasons.
Part of my passion as a dual-certified full-spectrum doula and music therapist is offering new parents tools to be able to have an empowered and grounded pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience.
Tips for an Empowered Pregnancy
1. Hire a Doula
A doula is trained to provide continuous one-on-one care, as well as information, physical support, and emotional support to birthing persons and their partners. Evidence has shown that continuous support from a doula during childbirth can decrease the risk of Cesarean, the use of medications for pain relief, and the risk of a low five minute Apgar score. To learn about my birthing support offerings, go to https://www.ampersandintegrative.com/birthing-support/.
2. Select a provider who you feel comfortable with and who validates and affirms your wishes for your pregnancy and labor.
- If you start to feel resistance or discomfort with your provider, find a new one! The relationship between birthing person and provider needs to be built on trust in order to experience a fulfilling, grounded birthing experience.
- Notice the little things with your provider. Do they ask for consent before examining you? Do they dismiss your fears and worries? Does your body feel at ease when you are interacting with them?
3. Join our pregnancy support group
Getting to share virtual space with other pregnant folks can feel incredibly empowering and centering. It can be helpful to process the experience of pregnancy with other people who are currently experiencing it. To reserve a spot at our next group, email email@example.com.
4. Reach out to a maternal mental health provider if you’re starting to feel overwhelmed or if you’d like to develop and build coping skills before giving birth.
5. Solidify your self care routine.
Work with our Integrative Program to create a personalized integrative wellness plan to care for your mind, body, and spirit. Pregnancy is challenging physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritual, and setting a strong foundation during pregnancy can help immensely during labor and postpartum.
Tips for a Grounded Birth
1. Create an aesthetically pleasing birth environment.
Regardless of where you are giving birth, you can change and control aspects of the environment to create a calming aesthetic experience. Light candles (battery-operated if you’re in the hospital), hang twinkle lights, turn music on, and hang up birth affirmations that will speak to you during your labor.
2. Utilize birthing playlists
Working with a music therapist to utilize programmed playlists for each stage of labor can help to match the birthing person’s changing needs through labor. It can help create a calming, supportive environment while also helping to promote deep breathing, an alternative sensory experience for pain management, and movement during labor.
3. Use your B.R.A.I.N.
Before making any decision in labor, use your BRAIN by asking the following questions:
- Identify the Benefits of doing this intervention
- Ask yourself, what are the potential Risks of doing this intervention?
- Are there Alternatives to this intervention?
- What does my Intuition tell me? Do I have a strong gut feeling?
4. Work with a doula to create a labor and postpartum preference sheet.
Thinking through the nitty-gritty decisions before you’re in labor can help to make sure you’ve thought through your options and can help guide your planning for your labor. If you’re delivering at the hospital, having your preferences written out also allows hospital staff to make sure they’re supporting your wishes despite the chaos of birth.
5. Limit the number of people in the room.
Studies have shown that the length of labor increases with the number of people in the room. Having people present, like a partner and a doula, to support the birthing person can be vital, but too many people in the room can interfere with the birthing process. Make sure that everyone who will be present is supportive of the birthing person’s needs and will not undermine them during the process.
Tips for a supported postpartum
- In the weeks leading up to your birth, make nutrient-dense freezer meals. Check out the book “The First Forty Days” for ideas of recipes to support postpartum parents.
- Set clear boundaries with family and friends before giving birth about how you want to be supported after you give birth. Do you want family and friends to come visit? Do you want to have a few days or weeks uninterrupted without guests? Be clear up front with your crew so that they know what to expect.
- Hire a postpartum doula, if able.
- Having a few nights of uninterrupted sleep can make an incredible difference for overall well-being during the postpartum period. A postpartum doula provides emotional and informational support in the important days and weeks after birth. Postpartum doulas help with infant care, while focusing on the birthing person and family.
- Reach out to a professional if you’re experiencing difficulty breastfeeding.
- Find a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist if you experienced a tear or episiotomy during childbirth or if you’re having any issues postpartum.
- To find a Pelvic Floor PT near you, go to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Filter for “pelvic health” and look for someone with DPT and WCS by their name.
- Get help if you’re feeling overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, or experiencing any distressing emotional and mental symptoms.
- Call the National Postpartum Depression Hotline at 1-800-PPD-MOMS (773-6667) or the Postpartum Support International Helpline at 1-800-944-4773
- Find a certified Maternal Mental Health practitioner
- If you’re experiencing Substance Use Disorder, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
Pregnancy can be overwhelming and incredibly difficult, and it’s important to develop a support system as soon as possible in order to feel supported and affirmed.