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The Hidden Side of Motherhood

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Raising awareness and ending the stigma associated with maternal mental health and burnout.

While motherhood certainly comes with many joys, it's undeniable that pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for children often take an emotional toll on mothers and other family members. With hormonal and physical body changes, sleepless nights, overwhelming schedules, and overstimulating days, motherhood can be exhausting and result in burnout. May 3rd is Maternal Mental Health Day, and it's a time for us to raise awareness of the mental health concerns that mothers face, the stigma associated with getting help, and how we can best support mothers and families that are struggling.

Mood Disorders and Burnout

If you are in a mental health crisis or having thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, call or text 988. If you or a loved one is in immediate danger, call 911.

Women’s bodies experience many changes throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. Physical changes, hormones, and abrupt lifestyle changes put new mothers at a higher risk for developing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, or PMADs. PMADs are more common than you may think; in fact, an estimated 1 in 5 women will experience a PMAD during their pregnancy or up to a year postpartum. The most common maternal mental health disorder is depression and anxiety disorders, including OCD and panic disorder.

Following the postpartum period, both stay-at-home moms and working moms face many challenges. Studies show that stay-at-home moms are especially susceptible to mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Being home all day with children and feeling isolated from society and other adults plays a big part in this risk.

All moms are also at high risk for experiencing burnout, defined as the “physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion due to the ongoing demands of caring for one’s children.” Signs of burnout include trouble keeping up with daily tasks, physical exhaustion, emotional overwhelm, and signs of detachment from your kids. In the most recent years, the Covid pandemic increased the risk of burnout, as many parents were forced to juggle working from home, online schooling, financial concerns, and isolation. Recent studies show that as many as 66% of working parents meet the criteria for burnout, feeling intense exhaustion.

End The Stigma

As maternal mental health disorders appear to be quite common, the sad truth is many women feel ashamed to admit that they are struggling. It’s estimated that out of the 1 in 5 women struggling with maternal mental health, 70% will hide or downplay their symptoms. They may feel that about admitting their struggle, or fear being judged or deemed an unfit parent. Society often paints a perfect picture of what motherhood and families should look like causing mothers to feel pressure to fit this mold.

Social media plays a big role in furthering the self-stigma associated with mental health conditions, making mothers feel like they are failing if these nearly impossible standards are not met. Following and seeing other mothers with perfectly clean houses and serving carefully balanced and elegantly prepared meals can increase the shame a mother feels if they are not capable of doing the same. However, we need to remember people often only focus on and share the good parts of motherhood while hiding their struggles.

In order to end the stigma, it's important that we provide support, reduce self-blame, and remain judgment-free. Opening the conversation and hearing other mothers’ stories of struggle and how they sought help can help make those who are struggling to feel less alone and less shame.

Tips for Managing Burnout

If you are feeling the effects of burnout, including exhaustion, detachment from your kids, and feeling inadequate, there are many things you can do and incorporate into your daily routine to help. One thing to keep in mind is all of these feelings are normal and okay! When you can’t cope with daily life for an extended period of time, then it’s time to seek help from a professional. Remember, the best thing for a child is a HEALTHY mom.

  • Isolation and loneliness negatively impact everyone’s health and are also major contributing factors to PMADS. While it can be difficult to find time to socialize, it is an important part of self-care. Finding moms groups, grabbing coffee with a friend, or taking part in an online support group are some ways you can connect with others. You can also call or text the Postpartum Support International HelpLine 24/7 for non-emergencies.

    • Call 1-800-944-4773 (4PPD)

    • #1 En Español or #2 English

    • Text in English: 800-944-4773

    • Text en Español: 971-203-7773

You can also call a Connecticut warmline. Find the numbers in our Support Group Guide.

  • To help with exhaustion, it's important to reduce the overload of stimulation and take breaks, no matter how short they are. Simply finding a quiet place to close your eyes, listen to calming music, or stepping outside can help to refresh your mind and ease anxiety. It's also important to prioritize sleep, even if your daily to-do list hasn’t been completed. Parenting often comes with a never-ending task list, but sleep should be first! Last, including your kids in activities that help calm the mind and body can be a great tactic for many moms with young children who can’t get away. Something simple like stretching on the floor while they play can help or having them join you for a deep breathing exercise can help you relax and teach them positive coping skills.

  • If you feel detached from your kids, it’s suggested to focus on physical touch because human contact can help to relieve stress and plays an important role in bonding. You can do this with hugs, hand-holding, or snuggling up with a book or watching TV with them. You can also include your kids in a hobby you enjoy. That can help bring back a sense of self while also spending quality time with your children.

  • Another effect of burnout is often a feeling of inadequacy, that you can never do enough for your children. To combat this feeling, try to practice self-compassion. Remind yourself that you are not alone, that every parent experiences struggles, and focus on what you need emotionally and physically. It’s also important to be psychologically flexible, which is your ability to be present, engaged, and implement your values in your daily life. And remember, if you feel like you need help, ask for it! Parents are not meant to do everything alone.

Resources for Mental Health Conditions

If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, it is important to speak to a medical professional and seek help.

Taking an online mental health screen can be a helpful tool in determining if you are experiencing a mood disorder, but this doesn’t take the place of a professional evaluation.

If you need to speak with someone, the National Maternal Mental Health hotline can be an excellent way to receive free, 24/7 confidential support and resources. If you are looking for ways to support your partner or friend, here are some tips.

For additional resources, visit our mental health resource page.

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