Motherhood and mental health
As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.
Mothers play a critical role in child bearing, child upbringing, family functioning and community building.
A mother who is thriving can help a family and a community to thrive too. The mental health of mothers is therefore a critical component of community’s well-being. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we should reflect on how to support mothers and support their mental well-being.
Factors affecting the mental health of mothers
Becoming a mother, caring for own’s children is a great privilege and can bring much joy.
However, there are some factors that increase the risk of poor mental health in mothers. These include:
Genetics and family predisposition to particularly depression and anxiety can put some women at higher risk of poor mental well-being as mothers.
Fertility problems can be a major source of stress and mental distress. Sadly, women often bear the blame for fertility challenges when a couple cannot have a child. Women often see the ability to bear a child physically as part of their identity and when faced with fertility problems may struggle with low self-worth, and poor self-esteem.
Unplanned pregnancies can also cause stress and can increase the risk of mental health challenges during and after the pregnancy, particularly when the mother has poor social support
Difficult pregnancies and birth experiences can take some of the joy from motherhood and can increase the risk of depression and anxiety.
Marital/ relationship difficulties can cause increased stress to mothers.
Parenting is a shared journey and relationship difficulties may affect family functioning and leave mothers feeling unsupported.
Limited social support from family and the community can make motherhood harder than it was ever meant to be. Children used to be raised in villages with support and assistance from extended family and the wider community.
Our increasingly nuclear family structures are putting more pressure on parents particularly mothers to meet all the needs of their children.
Financial problems and poverty can cause distress and a feeling of uncertainty that can affect a mother’s well-being.
The lower social status of women, can affect a mother’s sense of autonomy and self-determination increasing the risk of poor mental health.
Gender based violence and domestic violence will have a detrimental effect on a mother.
One of the key mental health needs of women is safety and security both physically and emotionally and violence in the home destroys that sense of safety compromising mental well-being.
What are the common mental health problems mothers can experience?
Hormonal and physical body changes of pregnancy increase the risk of depression particularly in women who may have poor social support or women faced with many stressors during their pregnancy.
After birth, women are rapidly expected to start caring for a new born around the clock, this pressure along with the challenges of breastfeeding and poor sleep can result in “baby blues” in the initial days of post-delivery which may continue as post-natal depression.
Women remain vulnerable to post-natal depression for up to a year after delivery of a baby.
Women who have two or more children under the age of five may have even greater risk of developing post-natal depression.
Some women may develop abnormal experiences such as delusions (strange, unusual beliefs) and hallucinations (hearing voices or seeing visions) after they deliver a baby.
This is post-natal psychosis and can seriously affect the bonding process between the mother and her child and may put the infant at risk if not treated promptly.
Stress and burnout can also occur as mother juggle the many responsibilities that come with raising children, household chores, caring for the family, and for some work outside the home.
Without adequate support and assistance this can be overwhelming. What can we do to support the mental health of mothers?
Support and assistance
We are not designed to live in isolation, as such, it is critical for mothers to be supported by their spouse/ partner as well as family and friends in their journey of motherhood.
Support of other mothers
We learn to be mothers often from fellow mothers and support groups for mothers could be helping in reducing the sense of isolation. Women often thrive on emotional connection and this can help mothers deal with the stresses of motherhood.
Educate and empower mothers
It is also important for a woman to have sense of autonomy and self-determination, to be empowered and for their voice to be heard in their family and their community.
A safe, enabling, empowering environment free from physical and emotional abuse can help protect women’s mental well-being. If you or a mother that you know may be struggling with mental health challenges, please contact your nearest health care provider.
l Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by: Dr Chido Rwafa- Madzvamutse, Consultant Psychiatrist. Feedback :Dr. Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse +263714987729) (www.ahfoz.org ; [email protected])