Black Maternal Mental Health and Managing Postpartum Maternal Stress
Updated: May 10
May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month and May 4th through 8th is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week. Becoming a mother and caring for your new infant is an indescribably rewarding experience, but also comes with a range of emotions and challenges. While it is normal to experience stress during this time, ongoing feelings of depression, stress, or anxiety could be a sign of more serious medical conditions. This article provides an overview of depression and anxiety, helps you to distinguish between “baby blues“ and depression, and provides ways to cope with stress, as well as, links for additional resources.
What are postpartum depression and anxiety?
Postpartum depression (PPD) is depression (feelings of sadness and emptiness) that occurs after having a baby. PPD can occur anytime during the first year after having a baby. Anxiety is characterized by feelings of nervousness, feeling scared, and/or worried. Some mothers experience anxiety along with PPD.
Difference between postpartum depression and baby blues
Most mothers experience symptoms of the “baby blues” within the first few weeks following childbirth, such as feeling overwhelmed, crying more often, or experiencing mood swings. It is important to distinguish between “baby blues” and postpartum depression, however. PPD involves more intense feelings of depression that lasts more than a few weeks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes the following symptoms of PPD and anxiety:
Crying more often than usual.
Unusually irritable or angry
Feelings of anger
Feeling anxious around your baby or other children
Withdrawing from loved ones.
Feeling distant from your baby.
Worrying or feeling like you are failing at motherhood
Thinking about hurting yourself or your baby
Doubting your ability to care for your baby
According to national surveys, about 1 in 8 women experience postpartum depression. The rate of Black women diagnosed with depressive disorders during hospital deliveries was 22.1 per 1000 from 2000 to 2015.
Maternal Stressors, Breastfeeding, and Ways to Cope
PPD and baby blues are not the only experiences that can impact the mental health and well-being of Black mothers. Physical, social, and environmental maternal stressors (e.g. racial discrimination, racial trauma, living in lower SES and lower resourced neighborhoods) can impact the health and well-being of Black mothers as well. In addition to these chronic stressors, you may also experience increased levels of stress as you adapt to motherhood in the midst of a global pandemic.
Research suggests that breastfeeding mothers release less stress hormone responses in the body. On the other hand, the relationship between breastfeeding and postpartum depression is unclear. Both stress and depression, however, may indirectly lead to ending breastfeeding earlier than desired. Chronic stress can also weigh on your health and increase your risk for developing chronic illnesses as well. Therefore, is important to discover healthy ways to cope with stress. The following are ways to cope with and relieve stress:
- Connect with Others. Social support is important for coping with stress. Although we are practicing physical distancing, you can use video conferencing apps and phone calls to stay connected to friends, families, and other moms. Social support is especially important for moms. Consider joining a support group to find your mama tribe. Here are a few support groups for Black mothers.
For breastfeeding support, check out our Directory of Breastfeeding Support Groups for Black Mothers across the U.S.
- Try breath work and/or mediation. Here are a few apps and programs specifically created for African Americans and people of color.
Smiling Mind and Headspace are popular apps as well.
- Eat a well-balanced diet to support breastfeeding, your physical health, and mental health.
- Take time for yourself. This can be as small as taking a relaxing bath while your baby is sleeping or taking a walk outside by yourself, if your partner or another caregiver can assist with caring for your baby.
- Do something you enjoy. Make a list of activities you enjoy and schedule time to complete each activity.
- Limit your consumption of social media and news stories related to the pandemic or other traumatic events.
- Stay physically active. In addition to the weight loss benefits, physical activity (as approved by your health care provider) also positively impacts mental health. While gyms remain closed, there are many options for free virtual work out classes. Here are a few ideas:
Try postpartum yoga
Every Mother (workouts designed for moms across all stages of motherhood)
Where to get help
Every mother deserves to be supported. Research suggests that Black mothers are less likely to seek and receive professional help for postpartum depression. If you need help, you do not have to suffer in silence. If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others
Visit the Disaster Distress Helpline external icon, call 1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746
Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255
Finally, the resources below can help you in managing postpartum stress and in achieving and maintaining mental wellness.
Postpartum doula. Doulas can help mothers adjust to motherhood and provide specific supports during the postpartum period such as help with breastfeeding, caring for infants, and teaching coping strategies.
·Shades of Blue Project is dedicated to breaking cultural barriers in maternal mental health. The organization provides maternal mental health support to women during pregnancy and during the postpartum period.
Therapy for Black Girls. The name is self explanatory, but this organization supports mental wellness among Black women and girls. Therapy for Black Girls was created by licensed Clinical Psychologists, Dr. Joy Hardin. There is a virtual support group on Thursdays for the Month of May and a podcast that covers topics like, creating your coping kit, managing anxiety about coronavirus, and the impact of racial trauma.
Talk Space is an online therapist app. You can access a therapist from your smart phone, tablet, or computer. There are subscription options available and a variety of COVID-19 resources, like a Facebook therapy group.
·Ayana. Ayana is an online therapy app created for “marginalized and intersectional communities” .
·Postpartum Support International (PSI). PSI has a support hotline (1-800-944-4773(4PPD) that is available to receive support and resource
Action Plan for Depression and Anxiety During Pregnancy and After Birth. NIH notes that the action plan is designed to help you understand the signs of depression and anxiety and to take steps to feel better. It should not take the place of professional medical advice.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Depression During and After Pregnancy. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/features/maternal-depression/index.html
2. Dozier, A. M., Nelson, A., & Brownell, E. (2012). The Relationship between Life Stress and Breastfeeding Outcomes among Low-Income Mothers. Advances in preventive medicine, 2012, 902487. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/902487.
3. Giurgescu, C. et al (2013), Stressors, Resources, and Stress Responses in Pregnant African American Women: A mix-methods pilot study. J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. 2013 ; 27(1): 81–96. doi:10.1097/JPN.0b013e31828363c3.
4. World Health Organization. Infant and Young Child Feeding. Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals. Available at www.who.int/nutrition/publications/infantfeeding/9789241597494/en/