Maternal Mental Health is an important piece in the puzzle of holistic maternal health, and since March is Women’s month, it’s part of the package. Maternal mental health is vital in the pursuit of more inclusive Women’s reproductive rights and we will re-echo its importance. Many women admit to being plagued by mental ailments during periods of pregnancy; both during and after pregnancy. The pregnancy period has a significant toll on women; many describe childbirth as a major life event that significantly alters the trajectory of life, and an undertaking that is of such importance can weigh heavily on one’s mental health.

The burden is certainly heavier for specific clusters of women that may include; women living in poverty stricken nations, women in relationships where they experience violence and abuse, Women affected by HIV/AIDS, Women who have been raped, pregnant young adolescents, Women holding refugee status, Women suffering from substance abuse.

The most common of mental illnesses that form after prolonged periods of distress are anxiety and depression. But in instances where mental illness is a preexisting condition, it may be worsened during and after pregnancy. Normally depression is handled through a combination of medication and talk therapy, however, treatment options are not as open when it comes to pregnancy because of the need to weigh potential risk benefit ratio of the treatment. And therefore, proper diagnosis and treatment is required to improve quality of life.

The most common and probably most understood form of poor mental health is postnatal depression that happens after child birth. Symptoms of postnatal depression may include irritability, fatigue, weight loss or weight gain. It is diagnosable and treatable by health professionals. It resolves within months for many cases but if left untreated, it may trigger major depression in later life.

The impact of poor maternal mental health cannot be ignored because it can create ripples of long lasting effects capable of impacting generations. Mental illnesses in parents have been known to trigger emotional, physical and developmental problems for infants and children. Other problems may include poor fetal growth, premature delivery leading to vulnerable infants that are easily susceptible to diseases and illnesses, and then also, children raised by depressed mothers tend to be poorly cared for.

What can be done to improve maternal mental health?

  • Integrating maternal mental health into primary care: Maternal health care that involves antenatal care requires the inclusion of mental health services for mothers. The prognosis improves significantly if problems are discovered early.
  • Social support: Men and society at large play an important role in improving maternal mental health through provision of support to expectant mothers.
  • Proper access to reproductive health services.

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