Being a new parent can be hard on your mental health. There are only so many stressors that any individual can handle at any given time, so sometimes when something goes wrong – your baby pees all over your clean work blouse, or you forget to send an email, or dinner burns – it can feel like the end of the world. Maybe it feels like everything going wrong. Or maybe it feels like, actually, it’s not any one thing you can pinpoint that feels wrong – you just feel really crummy and you can’t be sure why. It isn’t just you – this time in your life can be really tough for a lot of parents.
It can be rather hard to know what’s a “normal” degree of stress while pregnant and when figuring out life as a new parent. After all, bringing a baby into the world takes a lot out of you. It takes time for your body to recover, time to adjust to all the new responsibilities that come along with taking care of a little one, and time to adjust to how being a parent fits into the rest of your life. There are plenty of parts of parenting that wouldn’t necessarily be described as fun – physically recovering from labor and delivery, lack of sleep, the list could go on – and actually are hard. But there is a distinction between a normal sort of feeling crummy and something more serious.
Tools to help assess mental health
It’s common for new parents to struggle with their mental health, both while expecting a baby and after the birth of a child. Postpartum depression, or PPD, for example, occurs in 10% to 20% of women who have recently given birth, but PPD often goes unrecognized and untreated. Healthcare providers can use a number of assessments to help determine if what you’re feeling is normal, or if you might be experiencing perinatal depression, postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, or any number of other mental health issues.
Providers can screen for depressive and anxiety symptoms, often with questionnaires like the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale or the PHQ9 that can be given to an individual at various times throughout pregnancy or after having a baby. These questionnaires are best answered honestly so that healthcare providers can really assess how you’re feeling and help you consider just what sort of care you might need and benefit from.
Getting help is important and assessment can help
It’s important that if you happen to be experiencing depression, anxiety, OCD, or any number of other issues – during or after pregnancy – you get treatment and start on a path toward feeling better. It’s important to identify mental health issues because they can be so tough on you – which certainly doesn’t make your parenting life any easier – and, if left untreated, they can have negative effects on you, your child, and your family.
But if after screening you’re identified as experiencing a mental health condition, know that there’s nothing to be ashamed of, and if you do end up being diagnosed with a mental health condition, it can be treated. It’s also important to remember that screening tools measure the risk of developing a mental health condition, not the condition itself, and that a score on a screening is not a diagnosis. These sort of screenings also aren’t anything you need to be nervous about. In fact, they’re a tool for good, because they can start you on a path toward feeling better.
A huge part of taking care of yourself while pregnant and postpartum is focusing on your physical health, but your mental health is an important form self-care that you should prioritize too. You deserve to feel good. And it will help you to be the best parent you can be.
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- DK Gjerdingen, BP Yawn. “Postpartum depression screening: importance, methods, barriers, and recommendations for practice.” The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. 20(3):280-8. May-June 2007. Retrieved June 18 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17478661.
- “Screening for perinatal depression: Committee opinion number 630.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, May 2015. Retrieved June 18 2018. https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Screening-for-Perinatal-Depression.
- “Screening Recommendations.” Postpartum Support International. Postpartum Support International. Retrieved June 18 2018. http://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/screening/.