A Mental Health Checklist for Moms and Dads

When you’re pregnant, you’ll hear tons of advice about caring for your baby, but little advice about well-being after delivery.

There are a million baby registries that will tell you how many rompers and burp cloths to buy. Postpartum mental health resources for moms are harder to find.

If you’re one of the one in five new moms experiencing postpartum mood disorder, you need to know the signs and symptoms and how to get help. Better yet, you need a plan.

With help from experts, TODAY Parents have created a New Mom Mental Health Checklist in downloadable and printable form.

TODAY

Just as you look at a baby registry to see what you need for the baby, we hope mothers-to-be and their partners, friends and relatives can use this checklist to see how they can support a mother’s mental health.

This resource is for EVERY pregnant person: whether you’re having your first baby or your fifth, there’s no harm in preparing your sanity.

“Have a mental health plan,” urges Paige Bellenbaum, a social worker and founding director of the New York City-based Motherhood Center, where new and expectant mothers can get mental health support.

“Try to find out who your providers are, even call them ahead of time. Know what to do, know what to look for and I always say partners should be part of every step you take.”

If you feel depressed or anxious all the time, have panic attacks or bad thoughts that you just can’t get rid of – too often it feels like you’re on your own.

The good news: you’re not.

Postpartum Support International Helpline: 1-800-944-4773

“What’s really important to say is that this is very common,” says Birdie Meyer, a nurse and therapist who answers calls on the Postpartum Support International helpline. “You’ve done nothing wrong; you’re not alone, and you’re not at fault.”

Meyer is the Director of Postpartum Support International for Certification and Education. She says she wishes more people knew how common, and most importantly, how treatable postpartum mental health problems are.

“With the right treatment, you WILL get better,” she says. “This really isn’t going to last forever.”

The new mom mental health checklist isn’t everything, but it’s a start. And if it’s easier to save it on your phone or print it on your fridge, you can download it here.

What to know

Up to 80 percent of new moms experience the “baby blues,” a time when you’re extra emotional. That is normal.

The baby blues will pass in about two weeks. If you get extremely sad after that and make it hard to take care of yourself or the baby, it could be something more.

And it’s not just sadness or depression. Yes, postpartum depression affects up to one in seven new mothers. But postpartum anxiety affects one in 10 new mothers. There is also postpartum OCD, PTSD, bipolar, and psychosis. Symptoms can start anytime from right after birth to a year or more later, and they may not be what you expect. (See the bottom of this story for a list of symptoms and links for more information.)

What partners and friends can do

“We can’t expect new and expectant mothers to give themselves a lifeline when they’re struggling. Even with mild symptoms. They can’t be the ones to save themselves,” Bellenbaum says.

That’s why it’s so important for partners, friends, and family — anyone around a new mom — to know these signs and how to get help.

A trusted doctor can be a good first call – even better if you talk to your doctor about potential mental health issues BEFORE the baby arrives. However, not every doctor is knowledgeable about postpartum mental health. If you don’t know who to call, try the Postpartum Support International Helpline: you may have to leave a message, but you will get a response from someone close to you who understands postpartum mental health issues and who can put you through to local resources . Mothers can call, but also fathers, friends, relatives – anyone with questions.

If you’re concerned about a new mom’s mental health, approach the subject with caution. There is so much stigma about mental illness for mothers.

“Many women are ashamed of their struggles, and so they don’t want to acknowledge it,” said Dr. Rebecca Weinberg, a psychologist who oversees clinical surgeries for the Allegheny Health Network’s Perinatal Depression Program in Pittsburgh. “Some women are afraid that their children will be taken away or that they will be called a bad mother.”

First, if someone could be a danger to themselves or others, call 911 or go to the emergency room. Do not hesitate.

If you think there’s a problem, but you’re not sure, ask with a concern and offer help, not judgment.

  • DO: Try to indicate what you have observed. “I’ve noticed you don’t seem to be sleeping, even when the baby is asleep. How do you feel?”
  • DO: Ask questions. “Tell me more about what worries you most?”
  • DO: Offer resources. “Would you like to call this helpline together?”
  • DON’T: Try to downplay their feelings, even if you’re trying to make them feel better. “Focus on the positive – you have a healthy baby!”
  • DON’T: Try to impose your position. ‘Calm down, it’s okay! Everything is fine.”

What must we do before baby

Just like preparing a nursery, you can prepare your mental health before a baby arrives. You can’t completely baby-proof your mental health — there are risk factors beyond your control. But knowing the symptoms and knowing who to turn to for help is a good start.

Here are other things you can do:

Cleaning up social media: Look at your social media feeds. Are they full of perfect-looking moms and well-behaved kids in color-matched clothes? That sounds fantastic. It’s also a carefully crafted fantasy, and looking at those images might make you feel worse about your own unfiltered reality. Make sure your social media has more realistic parenting images – try Cat & Nat, I Mom So Hard, Scary Mommy, and of course TODAY Parents!

Do some myth busting: I will feel an instant, cosmic connection with my baby. Breastfeeding is easy and natural. My instincts will tell me what to do. Some of these things are true for some people, and they may be true for you. Or maybe not. And that’s okay! Our society has a lot of really powerful myths about motherhood, and the problem is that those myths can make us feel bad about ourselves if they don’t match our reality — and that can make it harder for people to recognize when they need help. .

Codeword for 15 minute break: Work out a code word with your partner that means, “I need a break; you need to take the baby.” When one of you reaches your limit and says the code word, there is no judgment, no questions, no need to explain, just an instant transfer of the baby You might think pre-baby that you would never have a code word like will need this Have one just in case.

Practice TIP: These tried and tested “distress tolerance techniques” are used in dialectical behavior therapy and they can be helpful when your emotions are running high, which is guaranteed to happen to a baby.

t = Temperature. Place your face in a bowl of ice water or hold a cold pack against your face for 30 seconds.

l = Intense Exercise. Not always possible after childbirth, but even a short burst of intense exercise (running, jumping, dancing) helps calm the body.

p = Paced breathing: Deep, slow breaths. Try five seconds in, seven seconds out.

p = Paired muscle relaxation. Inhale, tense your muscles, make yourself aware of the tension and then say the word ‘relax’ in your mind as you exhale and release.

Signs and Symptoms to Know

All these symptoms come from Postpartum Support International, a great resource with lots of information on its website.

General signs that something is wrong

According to Postpartum Support International:

Do you feel sad or depressed?

Do you feel more irritated or angry with the people around you?

Are you having trouble bonding with your baby?

Do you feel anxious or panicky?

Do you have problems eating or sleeping?

Do you have annoying thoughts that you just can’t get out of your head?

Do you feel like you are “getting out of control” or “going crazy”?

Do you feel like you should never have gotten older?

Are you afraid of hurting your baby or yourself?

Signs of Postpartum Anxiety

According to Postpartum Support International:

Constant worries

Feeling that something bad is going to happen

racing thoughts

Disruptions to sleep and appetite (Losing weight quickly, although sometimes praised, is a sign that something is wrong. And as a new parent, your sleep will be messed up anyway – but if you can’t sleep when the baby is asleep, or you can’t stop your mind from racing when you’re actually tired and have a chance to sleep, that’s a sign that something is wrong.)

Inability to sit still

Physical symptoms such as dizziness, hot flashes and nausea

Signs of Postpartum Depression

According to Postpartum Support International:

Feelings of anger or irritability

Lack of interest in the baby

Appetite and sleep disorders (see above)

Crying and sadness

Feelings of guilt, shame, or hopelessness

Loss of interest, joy, or pleasure in things you used to enjoy

Possible thoughts of harming the baby or yourself

Signs of Postpartum OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

According to Postpartum Support International:

Obsessions, also called intrusive thoughts, are persistent, repetitive thoughts or mental images associated with the baby. These thoughts are very disturbing and not something the woman has ever experienced before.

Compulsive acts, where the mother can do certain things over and over to ease her fears and obsessions. This could be things like constantly cleaning up, checking things often, counting things or rearranging things.

A sense of horror about the obsessions

Fear of being left alone with the baby

Hypervigilance in protecting the child

Moms with postpartum OCD know their thoughts are bizarre and it’s very unlikely they’ll ever do anything about it.

Signs of Postpartum PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

According to Postpartum Support International:

Intrusive re-experiencing of a past traumatic event (which may have been the birth itself)

Flashbacks or nightmares

Avoiding stimuli related to the traumatic event, including thoughts, feelings, people, places, and details of the event

Persistent increased arousal (irritability, difficulty sleeping, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response)

Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Feeling a sense of unreality and detachment

More resources

More about postpartum depression, anxiety and psychosis

More about postpartum PTSD

More about postpartum anxiety

More about postpartum psychosis

How Postpartum Depression Can Start Three Years After Birth

The maternity center

Postpartum Support International

Alexis Joy Foundation

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