“‘I have too much mental health and breastfeeding support,’ says no family EVER!” Felisha Floyd of The B.L.A.C.K. Course has accurately asserted. Around the world, as many as 1 in 5 new mothers experience some type of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMADs). Often, PMADs go unnoticed and/or untreated and can have tragic and long-term consequences to families and subsequently societies.
The World Maternal Mental Health (MMH) Campaign’s blog features the sometimes harrowing, sometimes triumphant stories of those enduring PMADs.
“It didn’t look anything like what the brochures told me it would look like….For me, PPD/PPA was a sneaky vixen that tricked my mind into thinking that every new mom felt like this,” one contributor writes. “That I was living in a cruel joke of a world where no one tells you that as soon as that baby pops out, you will never feel the same way again. The sneaky vixen told me that we’d made a huge mistake. We weren’t supposed to have a baby. That what I thought I wanted more than anything my whole life, was something that just wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel like this baby I was holding was mine. It belonged to the universe but I wasn’t his mom.”
Another shares, “I would look into the mirror and wonder who was the person looking back at me. She looked like me, but did not feel like me. There was no spark in her eyes. She was living, but she wasn’t alive.”
May 4 marks World Maternal Mental Health Day, time to reflect on why we need to pay attention to maternal mental health, influence policy and drive social change, reducing the stigma of maternal mental health.
The MMH Taskforce has curated a hub for individuals and organizations to find information about MMH and suggest a variety of ways to get involved including a social media toolkit with simple actions.
Last year, the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance (MMHLA) compiled the Perinatal Mental Health Advocacy Toolkit, “designed to help perinatal mental health (PMH) advocates understand the importance of their voices in raising awareness and influencing public policy to better support the mental health of women and other birthing people during the perinatal timeframe. Recognizing that advocacy and lobbying may sound scary or feel overwhelming, this Toolkit provides information and tools to empower advocates to tell their stories effectively, to build an advocacy network, and to put advocacy into action.” The document is complete with worksheets so that participants can build their own Toolkits with items like talking points, scripts for telephone calls, sample emails and letters, and more.
This work is of critical importance as we know that the health of mothers influences the health of the entire family.
Dr. Beryl Watnick, PhD has pointed out that the “mother infant bond is of profound importance. The brain patterns in babies can mirror the brain patterns in depressed mothers, but when women with depression are taught how to engage their babies in spite of their depression, their children’s depressed brain patterns can reverse themselves. This is the power of parenting.”
Although it is true that there is a vast amount of work to do in order to de-stigmatize maternal mental health and better support mothers and their families, there are also simultaneously a great deal of successes to celebrate. There are effective and well-researched treatment options available to help women recover, like breastfeeding. Individuals can connect with knowledgeable providers using Postpartum Support International’s database.
One such provider is Jabina Coleman, LSW, MSW, CLC, IBCLC aka The Lactation Therapist, providing clinical support, resources and tools for the start of a successful breastfeeding journey and adjustment into parenthood.
“Everybody Wants to Hold the Baby, Who Will Hold the Mother?” Coleman’s poignant credo. On her website, she lays out how to effectively hold mothers, with an emphasis on addressing the maternal mortality crisis that affects Black women who are dying three to four times the rate of their white counterparts.
In addition to the resources provided by the MMH Taskforce, MMHLA, and The Lactation Therapist, there are a variety of other opportunities to learn about and support MMH.
The Michigan Breastfeeding Network is hosting “Human Lactation and Mental Health: Best Practices” with presenters Tameka Jackson-Dyer, BASc, IBCLC, CHW, Rosa Gardiner, RN, IBCLC, Mistel de Varona, IBCLC, and Kara Smith, BSN, RN, CLC, PMH-C. You can register for the webinar here.
Kathleen Kendall Tackett’s, PhD, IBCLC, FAPA presentation Does Breastfeeding Protect Maternal Mental Health? The Role of Oxytocin and Stress is available here.
The American Heart Association, with funding support from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health program, is hosting a webinar titled “Mixing Milk + Meds: Assessing Infant Risk during Breastfeeding” on Wednesday, June 15, at 2 p.m. ET. Speakers from the Infant Risk Center will discuss how to evaluate which medications are safe for breastfeeding patients.