All this research data comes from the U.S. The U.S. is the only developed nation that has no federally guaranteed paid-maternity leave. By contrast, Canadian women are guaranteed up to 52 weeks of job-secured, paid-leave. In France, families can place infants into registered nurseries starting at two months and costs are very reasonable. Children can enroll in free pre-school starting at the age of two. Most families are given significant tax breaks and other incentives when they have children. I wonder if the results of depression and mental illness are similar in countries that offer far more support to working mothers and families. Caring for an infant is challenging especially when you don’t have any support. When you couple this with the pressure of returning back to work and ensuring a steady income for your family, it is little wonder that the rates of mental illness are so high. I find it frustrating that this article made no mention of how leave policies might exacerbate the stress of having a new child.
JUDITHELLEN in NY
This is a very important topic and the stories referred to a much more common than generally realized. As a mother and a therapist I feel there is another extremely important factor which needs to be taken into consideration. The stress of having a child in our culture is greatly increased by the social isolation many new mothers experience. There are very few support systems in place to enable new mothers to acquire the help that is so needed. Most new mother’s do not have family members immediately available and the only way they can get help is by hiring others. This involves money which may not be available, as well as the time and wherewithal that goes into interviewing and choosing someone for childcare.
In my experience, those new mothers who are fortunate enough to have extended family for support suffer much less from the symptoms described in this article. Perhaps, as a culture, we need to consider taking the route of providing better and more extensive support systems for mothers.
ML in Princeton, N.J.
Yet another side effect of our isolated “nuclear family” society. New mothers are not meant to spend their days alone and purposeless. They are meant to be in the company of many other women, mothers sisters and friends. The care they give to their children is meant to be honored and supported, not devalued and hurried. I would assume that mothers in a more natural social environment still experience the hormonal shifts and related mental effects, but given the loving support of their family and community don’t need medical intervention and paid “group therapy.”
Pregnancy, Childbirth and Breastfeeding are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. One’s sense of self is irrevocably altered, there is a suffocating sense of responsibility with no end in sight. Sleepless nights, the unending demands of babies and toddlers, the lack of social and mental stimulation are overwhelming. Screening and treatment are the modern equivalents, and poor substitutes for familial love and support.
EW123 in St. Louis
Other posters are correct that there is very little pre-emptive support for mothers in this country. You are treated in the hospital for two to four days, usually without any significant mention of how to take care of yourself emotionally. If your partner gets any time off, it’s a few days. If you are lucky enough to get time off from your job, it’s “disability” for six weeks at a fraction of your pay. I know women who have been forced to pump in bathrooms at work, or who are scared to get any help because they can’t afford it. The other thing that is not mentioned here is that the way a woman is treated by her healthcare provider during the prenatal and perinatal periods (the time of labor, birth and immediate postpartum in the hospital) can make a difference to her mental health during pregnancy. I was treated terribly by a stand-in doctor who performed intrusive procedures without even seeking my permission. I felt powerless and violated. It absolutely contributed to my postpartum mental state, and I ended up being diagnosed with postnatal PTSD. My story is not an anomaly. According the “Childbirth Connection” survey in 2013, a considerable percentage of American women felt they lacked control or respectful care during the perinatal period. We must start supporting women from the get-go in prenatal and perinatal care if we want to make a dent in improving our nation’s postpartum mental health.
It’s a start, but where to go from here? I’ve been consciously trying to rebuild my village for the past year. I don’t have a quick fix answer but I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way which I will be sharing here soon.