False myths of Maternal Mental Health

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It is currently known that the mental health of the mother directly affects the relationship with the child and its wellbeing. For this reason, it is important to detect the false myths that society has as regards mental disorders in the perinatal and postnatal period, so that they can be eliminated.

Woman happy to be pregnant

MYTH. Pregnancy is a period of wellbeing, and it protects the women from psychological unease.

REALITY. 20% of women have a psychiatric disorder in pregnancy and/or in the postnatal period.

Mental disorder in women that improves with pregnancy

MYTH. Mental disorders tend to improve during pregnancy.

REALITY. Some disorders have a relapse rate of up to 50-70% in the postnatal period, especially if they do not receive treatment.

Healthy fetus

MYTH. Mental suffering does not affect the pregnancy, the foetus, or the newborn baby.

REALITY. Maternal stress has been associated to worse gestational and neonatal outcomes.

Pregnant woman with crossed-out medicines

MYTH. Pharmacological treatments are teratogenic, that is to say, they can cause malformations of any type in the foetus and must be avoided.

REALITY. Many psychiatric drugs are not teratogenic or the absolute risk may be acceptable.

Woman crying with anxiety and depression or minor illnesses

MYTH. Anxiety and depression are minor illnesses, and the tranquilisers and antidepressants are “luxury” drugs that must be avoided.

REALITY. Inadequately treated depressive and anxiety disorders can seriously interfere in the functioning of the mother.

Woman with newborn in her arms and a watch

MYTH. Postnatal depression is rare and resolves itself spontaneously.

REALITY. One in every 10 mothers suffers postnatal depression and take up to a year to fully recover.

Social and emotional support

For the mother with postnatal depression the response and support of those around them is important, as well as the detection of the initial symptoms, in the understanding and recognition that it is an illness, as well as in the treatment process.

The partner, relatives and friends of a mother with postnatal depression can provide support in the following ways:

  • Identify the common erroneous beliefs about postnatal depression, be informed in order to combat the prejudices and stigmatising attitudes.
  • Show concern for her physical as well as her mental health and ask her how she feels and what you can do to help her.
  • Help and collaborate when following the professional advice as regards treatment.
  • Accompany her during the recovery process that can occasionally be long.
  • Avoid giving simplistic advice, although it may be with good intention, (“cheer up”, “you have to go out”, “if you make an effort you will get over it”, “you have a baby and this should help you to be happy”).
  • Occasionally she can isolate, so if they feel like it, plans or activities together can be proposed.
  • If the mother so requires it, one can tend to the needs of the baby and offer the necessary help.
  • Occasionally, the depression may present with irritability thus you must avoid taking things personally. It is one symptom more of the depression. In order to give the best possible support to the mother, it is important that the people around her have energy and strength. It is normal to need some time to look after yourself.
  • Help in the incorporation of healthy life habits.

Healthy habits

Woman sleeping in the bed

Sleep. In general, to sleep sufficient hours and have a good quality of sleep is a protective factor for mental health, particularly in mood disorders. However, in the case of mothers that have postnatal depression it must be taken into account that the stage of life that she is in usually interferes with the hours and quality of sleep, especially when she breastfeeds. It is recommended that, despite the difficulties, be aware of the importance of sleep and try to make it the most repairing as possible. Ensure that the mother sleeps and/or rests. 

Woman doing exercise

Physical exercise. Although the exact mechanisms responsible are not known with certainty, it has been shown that the regular practice of physical activity decreases the levels of anxiety and depression, and has a beneficial impact on other emotions that contribute to the psychological well-being of the individuals.

Beer mug and joint crossed out; no drug consumption

Toxins. The consumption of alcohol or other drugs (cannabis, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, etc.), makes the improving and treatment of a depressive disorder more difficult. Furthermore, the consumption of toxic substances during nurturing and breastfeeding is a complication and serious risk for the infant, which should alert the teams responsible for the treatment.

Substantiated information by:

Alba Roca
Anna Torres Giménez
Lluïsa García Esteve
Susana Andrés Perpiñá

Published: 7 May 2019
Updated: 7 May 2019

The donations that can be done through this webpage are exclusively for the benefit of Hospital Clínic of Barcelona through Fundació Clínic per a la Recerca Biomèdica and not for BBVA Foundation, entity that collaborates with the project of PortalClínic.

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