THE TEA | April 2024

This May, Reflect on Maternal Mental Health

SaraBeth Askins, CNM

I’m SaraBeth Askins, a Certified Nurse Midwife and Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner based in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Through my years dedicated to labor, delivery, and postpartum care, I’ve grown incredibly passionate about the transformative journey of motherhood and ensuring moms have the support they need to thrive. Mental health plays a critical role in this transformation, yet it often doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. 

That’s why I’m particularly excited about dedicating time during Mental Health Awareness Month this May to focus specifically on mothers. There are practical steps that can significantly improve maternal well-being, whether a woman is contemplating starting a family or has recently given birth. As a midwife, I’ve witnessed firsthand the profound impact that understanding and support can have during this major life transition. In this blog, I’ll discuss some common challenges and lesser-known issues related to postpartum mental health.

Navigating the Hormonal Rollercoaster

Did you know that the hormonal shifts a woman experiences immediately after childbirth are among the most rapid and significant in her life? These changes can be as dramatic as those occurring during major life transitions like puberty or menopause, but they happen in a much shorter time frame. Within just a few days of giving birth, key hormones such as estrogen and progesterone drop sharply from their peak pregnancy levels. This rapid decline can lead to a range of physical and emotional symptoms, from mood swings and anxiety to physical discomfort.

Understanding and supporting women through this hormonal upheaval is critical for their mental and emotional health, helping them adjust more smoothly to life after delivery.

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Recognizing When It’s More Than Just the 'Baby Blues'

It’s crucial to differentiate between normal postpartum adjustments and symptoms that might point to deeper issues. Many new mothers experience the “baby blues,” which usually subside within two weeks. However, it might signal something more serious when emotions do not ease but become more intense or prolonged.

The “baby blues” are well known for causing temporary sadness, fatigue, and anxiety, which typically resolve within two weeks after childbirth. However, when these feelings intensify or linger, they may indicate more serious conditions like postpartum depression or anxiety. Being vigilant about symptoms such as persistent, overwhelming emotions and frequent emotional outbursts is essential for early intervention and effective support.

Building a Strong Support Network

Having a strong support system is absolutely crucial—it really makes a world of difference in preventing and managing maternal mental health challenges. This support network usually includes partners, family, friends, and healthcare providers. As a midwife, I’m a part of this team, too, offering professional care, a sympathetic ear, and informed advice to ensure mothers feel supported every step of the way. I encourage mothers to openly communicate their needs and feelings, join support groups where they can share experiences with other moms, and seek counseling if the emotional load becomes too heavy.

Having a strong support system is absolutely crucial

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Ensuring Continual Care

While building a supportive network is foundational, integrating routine mental health screenings into a woman’s prenatal care is equally important. Such screenings should be as commonplace as physical health checks during prenatal visits. This proactive approach helps us catch potential issues early on, fostering open and nonjudgmental dialogues crucial for maternal mental well-being.

The Importance of Routine Mental Health Screening

Proactive mental health screening should be a standard practice during prenatal visits, as routine as physical health checks. This early screening allows us to identify and address potential issues before they escalate, promoting open, judgment-free conversations that can improve maternal well-being. Approaching each mother’s situation and understanding cultural sensitivities ensures that our care respects diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Additionally, the advent of telehealth has made mental health resources even more accessible, helping mothers who might be struggling with anxiety or depression from the comfort of their homes.

Whether you’re expecting or have recently become a mother, remember that your mental health is just as important as your physical health. It’s important to find a healthcare partner who prioritizes mental health during pregnancy and makes it a regular part of health discussions, just like monitoring blood pressure or managing diabetes. I encourage anyone seeking more information to reach out—you’re not alone in this journey. Together, we can ensure that every mother receives the support and care she needs through her journey into motherhood.

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SaraBeth Askins, CNM

SaraBeth Askins, CNM, earned a Master of Science in Nursing from Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies in Washington, D.C. Prior to that she completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Samford University Ida V. Moffitt School of Nursing in Birmingham, Alabama. Askins has worked as a nurse since 2014, with much of that time spent caring for mothers and babies.

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