May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Nearly 44 million American adults and an estimated 13 –20 percent of children living in the United States (up to 1 out of 5 children) experience a mental disorder in a given year. According to Postpartum Progress, one in seven new mothers experience postpartum depression or a related illness and the rate for women of low socioeconomic status increases to one in four.
May is also a significant month in my family. This year, I turned 40, and my oldest daughter turned 5. I have been thinking about Mental Health Awareness Month and these milestones, reflecting on how my life changed when I became a mom and who supported our family along the way…
My first year as a mom was both amazing and challenging as I adjusted to what my husband called “the new normal” of our lives. My labor and delivery turned out different from what I had hoped for; I ended up needing to recover from a C-section. I had a sweet, energetic baby who loved to cuddle and nurse. I had to learn how to care for her round-the-clock needs. My plan to breastfeed exclusively ended after a month long quest to find any way possible to increase my milk supply. My return to a fulfilling, full-time job 14.5 weeks after giving birth was surprisingly upsetting. And, I lost both of my grandmothers in less than a year. I felt joy and wonder at the same time that I felt sad and overwhelmed.
Our family, friends, and colleagues called, emailed, texted, visited, and brought gifts of food, diapers, and baby clothes. We were lucky to have support from a kind pediatrician and an understanding lactation consultant who we visited often in the early weeks. I came up for air after the first six weeks and decided I needed to meet some other new moms. I joined our town’s new mom’s group, and it was just what I needed. When I started back to work, family members took care of my daughter. Colleagues supported my return, and, a few months later, I made the decision to cut back my hours to find a better balance between working outside the house and being home.
My colleagues at the Center for Social Innovation who have experienced mental health challenges talk about the importance of supportive family, friends, and colleagues; the need for community, connection, and flexible work and educational environments; and the significance of quality physical and mental health care. I understand what they mean because these things all made a difference to me as a first-time mom.
Family, friends, colleagues, community, connection, flexibility, and physical and mental wellness...when you think about it, these are the things that can make a difference to so many of us--whether we are having a bad day, a period of sadness, dealing with loss, or the experience of postpartum depression or another mental health condition. We must find a way to naturally incorporate them into the fabric of our lives, including family and social circles, workplaces, communities, programs, and services so all new parents and families can benefit.
If you are supporting a family member or friend with a new baby; planning and developing community, workplace, and educational programs; or providing physical and mental health services, you have a role to play. Some things to consider:
- Check out this Positive Postpartum Plan (postpartum plans are as important as birth plans!).
- Find new mom and breastfeeding support groups in your community.
- If you work for a city, town, or community program where there are not any new mom support groups, start one!
- Connect with other parents on social media to share experiences (and some laughs too!).
- Make sure your workplace or educational program has a place for nursing moms to pump.
- If you are supervising, overseeing, or teaching a new parent, find ways to be flexible to ease the transition.
- Reach out to your OB/GYN, midwife, doula, nurse, lactation consultant, pediatrician, primary care provider, or mental health professional to get your questions answered, learn about resources, and get the support you need to maintain physical and mental wellness.
It really does take a village to raise a child, and supporting families with new babies is crucial. I will always be grateful to the village that has been supporting my family for the last 5 years (and running!). My hope is for all new families to be supported in ways that are meaningful to them. To achieve that goal, we all have a role to play!
Learn more about supporting families by registering for t3's upcoming course: "Young Parents with Young Children: Supporting Two Generations"