As counsellors who work in large part with expectant and new mothers, of course we are going to advocate for counselling support during this phase of life. It’s what we do!
We have written this article for a couple of reasons: the first, is to help reach those women who are on the fence about counselling, or have convinced themselves that it’s either too expensive, there’s not enough time, or they don’t really need it. Fair enough – these reasons are valid. However, if this sounds like you, we’d invite you to read on. It could be the nudge that you need to finally prioritize your mental health.
The second reason is to remind those around a new mother – a partner, a parent, a friend, to consider counselling as a worthwhile option to encourage. That may mean that you suggest it to her directly if you see that she is having a hard time, or you really help to make it happen if she brings it up as something she is considering. The last thing a new mother needs is additional barriers to receiving professional support.
So here are our top reasons why every new mother may want to consider counselling, more specifically maternal mental health counselling, as a part of her postpartum plan.
The complexity of the transition to motherhood has yet to be fully acknowledged
Matrascence, the official term for the transition to motherhood, involves huge shifts in responsibilities, priorities, changes in a woman’s body, her hormones, and her whole life really. And with these many changes comes increased stress; increased stress = a heightened nervous system and often reduced coping. Some women thrive during periods of change but even these mothers find the intensity and the complexity of the transition to motherhood very difficult. A therapist can help a new mother make sense of these shifts as well as make a plan for what she needs to adjust more smoothly.
There is a high prevalence (about 1 in 5) of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders (PMADs)
This is the case even for those with no previous history of a diagnosed mental health condition. In other words, PMADs do not discriminate. You can have all of the right resources lined up, be highly educated, very much want to be a mother, and still experience mental health symptoms that interfere with your life. Postpartum anxiety, depression, OCD, and psychosis are among the specific categories that a woman can be diagnosed with, which can be an overwhelming experience. With specialized mental health support, symptoms can resolve more rapidly, and a woman can return to feeling more like herself.
Maternity leave can be an isolating period for women
Since many women on maternity leave are not surrounded by extended family, the process of adjusting to motherhood is often done in isolation. These feelings can become more apparent when/if a partner returns to work. This is not to minimize the often beautiful moments between a mother and infant, however not having as much social time with other adults, or designated time in other environments (such as the workplace) can be a new challenge. A skilled therapist can help a mother feel less alone in her struggles and find her way back to connection.
Sleep deprivation that so often accompanies life with a baby can wreak havoc…
…on many areas of life. There are countless ways that having interrupted, broken, or simply not enough sleep can affect one’s cognitive processes including, but not limited to, mood instability, a bias towards negative thinking, an elevated fear response, as well as a compromised ability to use the coping skills needed to manage the above changes. To learn more about this, we have a great post on the topic here.
Counselling can be a way to carve out a protected amount of time, just for you
Therapy can be an opportunity to collect your thoughts and walk away with more clarity about your next steps. Unfortunately, we tend to respect appointments made with professionals more than our arbitrary dates with ourselves (I’m going to journal tonight for 1 hour!). It just doesn’t happen. Meeting with your therapist regularly to focus entirely on your life, and how to make it better, is the ultimate act of self-care.
Having a baby can put a major strain on relationships
This can include family relationships, friendships (navigating boundaries and diverse opinions), as well as your intimate relationship (changing roles, increased responsibility, little time for each other, increased arguing over how things are done with your baby, etc.) Counselling can be a place to make sense of how you are feeling towards your loved ones and what you need from them. That may also take the form of couples counselling or a couples support session, in which you can learn how to vocalize your needs in a constructive way, work your way through ongoing battles, and better understand how to get on the same team.
The (unfair) expectation that mothers should have it all figured out
All of these changes above, combined with the societal burden on mothers that they should somehow instinctually always know what to do, sadly leave many postpartum women feeling depressed, anxious, disappointed in themselves, or even ashamed to admit that they don’t have it all figured out. And of course, for those who may consider themselves to be high achievers, solving problems and figuring things out in other areas of their life, the ‘learning on the job with no roadmap’ can be a shocking experience.
Counselling during this vulnerable time can be key in helping a mother to remember all of the ways that she is adjusting well, the positive experiences motherhood, as well as to make space to explore some of the tougher adjustments in her life, such as identity and roles.
Therapy can also be beneficial during pregnancy
By connecting with a counsellor during pregnancy, you can begin the process of finding the right fit: a therapist who you trust, connect with, and generally feel that they ‘get’ you. This is a proactive strategy that many women are choosing to put in place before their baby arrives as part of their postpartum plan. You get to create your professional support team so postpartum you can lean on these established relationships when you need them!
And remember that there’s no commitment – if you try it and don’t feel like you need ongoing sessions – that’s ok. But you may find that some ongoing work, or even a monthly check-in, can really help to bolster your coping, and overall mental health.
Counselling support for expectant mothers and new mothers
Whether you are currently pregnant or postpartum, if you are finding yourself feeling overwhelmed, isolated, or not like yourself, we urge you to connect with someone as soon as possible. You can set up an appointment with one of our Maternal Mental Health Counsellors here. This would be especially urgent if you are having thoughts that are disturbing you (thoughts of harm to yourself, others, or your baby).
If you are having reoccuring thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, please seek immediate help. Call 9-1-1 or drive yourself to your nearest ER and leave your baby in the care of a loved one. This is considered a medical emergency and there are medical professionals who can help you.
If you are a support person who has been noticing a radical change in behaviour in your loved one, we urge you to connect with us as well. We can help you determine the severity of the situation along with the next steps. If you are concerned about the safety of yourself or others, call 9-1-1.