Submitted by Tawnya Christiansen (MD), Behavioral Health Medical Director at Community Health Plan of Washington, a not-for-profit providing Apple Health (Medicaid), Medicare Advantage, and Individual & Family health plan.
Everyone experiences motherhood differently. It can be joyful and exciting, but many moms can agree it is also stressful – especially first-time moms. This stress can lead to emotional and mental health changes during the postpartum period (the time after labor when moms’ bodies continue to change). In fact, about 85% of moms experience some type of change in mood.
Many normal postpartum changes mimic symptoms of depression, such as changes in sleep, energy and appetite. It is important to monitor these symptoms closely to understand if you are experiencing baby blues or postpartum depression. Symptoms of the baby blues are usually milder, start soon after birth, and resolve on their own within a couple of weeks. They may include low mood, insomnia, fatigue or diminished concentration, but they do not keep you from caring for your baby. Meanwhile, extreme changes in behavior could be indicators of postpartum depression. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek support from your primary care doctor or a mental health professional.
While every parent will have a different experience, there are several best practices new moms can implement to manage their mental health. If you are a new mom, here are my three top pieces of advice as a mental health practitioner – and a mom of three kids myself – to cope with stress.
1. Be realistic – bringing a new child into this world is not easy.
While it is normal to have anxiety about lifestyle changes due to pregnancy and parenting, it is essential for expecting and new parents to set realistic expectations. Taking care of yourself and your baby should be your top priority. Expecting to care for your new child, yourself and manage all the same tasks you did before will only create unnecessary stress. The dishes may go unwashed, and the laundry may have to pile up, and that is okay.
2. Build connections with other moms, dads or new caregivers.
Find a support group and form connections with others who are experiencing or have experienced new parenthood. It is helpful to share how you are feeling, guide one another through the ups and downs, and know you are not alone.
If you need to reach outside of your current friends or family for support, there are many local non-profit organizations across Washington that bring moms and parents together in groups or provide one-on-one support. I encourage anyone looking to build a stronger support system to explore what their community offers. For example, Nurture Seattle is a community-based program that matches you with a mentor who is also a mom to check in by text every week. Together, you can solve challenges, you may be facing, transition through new parenthood experiences, and celebrate victories.
3. Identify your needs and ask for help.
When caregivers, support groups, family or friends check in, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You may need an extra hand with chores around the house, someone to watch your baby for an hour so you can take time to rest or do groceries, or a friend to go on a walk with. By asking for help, you are doing what you can to allow yourself to take the best possible care of your baby.
Being a new mom is amazing and exhausting. It is important to acknowledge your feelings and manage your whole health by setting realistic expectations, building connections with others, and asking for help from the community when you need it.
For more information on mental and maternal health, explore CHPW’s blog, CHPWConnections: connections.chpw.org/.
Community Health Plan of Washington is a not-for-profit that serves over 280,000 people across the state through Apple Health (Medicaid), Medicare and Individual & Family insurance plans. To learn more, visit chpw.org.