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The Hidden Struggles Of Maternal Mental Health

In Features, Motherhood, Stories by Nicole Fuge

By Nicole Fuge, MD® Managing Editor

Understanding your own maternal mental health is not easy.

Our hormones are all over the place. We are t-i-r-e-d. And life as we know it has completely changed.

So when we’re not feeling ourselves, it can be really hard to know whether it’s normal to be feeling like this, or whether it’s something more [and we need help].

But if you are feeling like this, just know that you are NOT alone.

Sooo many hopeful, expectant and new parents struggle with their mental health – 75% of us actually.

And it’s because of this statistic – uncovered by new research by not-for-profit COPE (Centre of Perinatal Excellence) – that they have launched a world-first campaign to help parents during this tough time.

It’s no surprise that the first year of motherhood is tough, with mums [and dads] experiencing severe sleep deprivation, terrifying thoughts and outbursts of rage.

For some, their mental health suffers even before this season of motherhood – with many going through infertility, miscarriage and still birth. Others have hard pregnancies and struggle with prolonged and severe morning sickness. While some experience traumatic births, something which stays with them for years.

Dr. Nicole Highet, the Founder and CEO of COPE, says many mums revealed they battled anxiety and depression as a direct result of not being prepared for and supported through unexpected challenges.

“Our new report reveals that hopeful, expectant and new parents face a wide range of challenges at every stage of their journey to parenthood. These are clearly having profound and often long-term impacts on emotional and mental wellbeing,” she says.

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3-in-4 mums struggle with their maternal mental health

Breastfeeding, coping with an unsettled baby, sleep deprivation, bonding and attachment difficulties. These are just some of the things new parents have mentioned they struggled with. As well as constant unsolicited and conflicting advice.

Some also said they have been terrified by thoughts of harm to their baby and intense feelings of rage.

And with rates of postnatal stress, anxiety and depression surging in the first year after birth – new parents feel unprepared and overwhelmed.

“So many feel alone and isolated in their experiences,” Dr Highet says.

“Lack of awareness, shame and stigma prevent individuals from getting help. Or talking openly about what’s really going on for them. For fear of judgement by family, friends and health professionals. Some even fear losing their children.”

COPE’s groundbreaking The Truth campaign [which is the first of its kind in the world!] highlights the challenges mums and dads experience across the five perinatal stages:

  1. Trying to conceive
  2. Loss
  3. Pregnancy
  4. Birth
  5. The first year of parenting

“There has been too narrow a focus on postnatal depression. At the postnatal stage it is too little, too late,” Dr Highet says. “A true preventative approach requires promoting the many challenges that parents may face along the entire journey to parenthood.”

If you need help, contact COPE at cope.org.au.

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