May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CA
A few years ago I posted about Maternal Mental Health Week (the first week of May) and the Blue Dot campaign. Well, it is such an important topic, affecting the entire family, that the week has now been expanded into the entire month of May!

I often hear women say "postpartum" when they mean postpartum depression, but the term "postpartum" actually means the period following delivery, not necessarily depression. The correct term for mood changes during or after pregnancy is Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs), which can include anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and bipolar disorder. It is not limited to the immediate postpartum period nor is it limited to mothers; fathers and other family members can also experience PMADs during pregnancy and for up to a couple of years after the birth of the baby.

The transition to motherhood is, in my experience, the biggest life transition you, as a a woman, will ever experience. Your entire identity changes, both in your own eyes and in the world’s. If you have had careers where you have been competent and in charge prior to having a baby, the transition can be a rude awakening. All of a sudden after a life of being competent, you are thrust into a world of sleep-deprivation, a sore body, rapidly fluctuating hormones, piles of laundry, and a crying baby (and often mom!) who does not do things according to your schedule. Because of these changes, it can be hard to know if what you are feeling is a normal part of adjusting to a life with a baby or whether it is something that needs treatment.

Approximately 1 in 7 women experiences PMADs. If you find that you are having disturbing thoughts, such as “I’m not a good mom,”or “my baby doesn’t love me,” please reach out to your care provider for help. Postpartum Support International (PSI) has a helpline that you can call and they will connect you with local help. As PSI says, “You are not alone, you are not to blame, with help you can heal.” PSI’s Helpline is 1-800-944-4773 or you can text them at 503-894-9453.

The therapies most prescribed for PMADs are talk therapy and medication, but Chinese medicine (including acupuncture, herbs, and moxa) offers a powerful, personalized form of treatment. There is a long tradition in Chinese culture of postpartum practices that support the physical, emotional, and mental health of the new mother. She is fed deeply nourishing foods and herbs and is encouraged to get lots of rest, while others help her care for the baby.

I encourage every woman to come in for postpartum treatments. After the baby is born, so much attention and energy is focused on the new arrival that the recovery of the mom is often forgotten or overlooked. After labor, a new mom's hard work is not done! She and her body need pampering. Caring for a newborn is exhausting and getting support in the form of moxa, herbs, and acupuncture can go a long way towards replenishing energy reserves and preventing future health problems.

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