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Maternal Mental Health Month addresses postpartum challenges

Maternal Mental Health Month addresses postpartum challenges

May. 15, 2024

By Mary Wade Burnside

When Kristen Pinkney had her first baby at the beginning of the COVID pandemic in spring 2020, she experienced a great deal of anxiety that she eventually linked to her postpartum state.
“I was almost obsessive-compulsive,” said the Fairmont resident, who works at WVU as a placement coordinator for teacher education students.
“We ended up having a lot of breastfeeding struggles and I switched to pumping,” she added. “It was a blessing, but also became a channel for my OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). I obsessed over tracking ounces and it fueled my anxiety."
Pinkney realized that her feelings came from more than just the pandemic and the strict conditions at the hospital when she gave birth.
Many people have heard of postpartum depression, but some may not realize that mental health issues after having a baby aren’t limited to just feeling blue.
“I was looking out more for depression than anxiety, so it made it harder to flag it as a postpartum issue,” Pinkney said.
Monongalia County Health Department’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program has teamed up with the West Virginia chapter of Postpartum Support International to get the word out about Maternal Mental Health Month, which takes place in May, as well as the resources that are out there to help parents who are facing these feelings.
Kayla Mullin, PMH-C (Perinatal Mental Health Certified), of the West Virginia chapter of PSI, notes that a lot of new mothers often have trouble recognizing their symptoms because they might not fit an expected pattern.
“You can have postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum bipolar, postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder and even postpartum psychosis,” Mullin said.
It’s possible that these individuals never had any mental health issues before becoming pregnant, she added, although there are risk factors that expectant mothers or those planning to have a baby can consider.
These include having a complicated pregnancy or delivery, a premature baby, an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, fertility treatments that have affected the mother’s hormones even before the pregnancy, having a medically compromised or colicky baby, stressful life events and multiple births or having children very close together or very far apart.
PSI’s goal is to get the word out to expectant parents and also physicians to take signs of postpartum mental health issues seriously and to be prepared for them, especially if any of the risk factors exist.
As Pinkney noted, “Some of the feelings, in retrospect, started during pregnancy. We call it “postpartum” so we think it happens post-birth. But a lot of my anxiety started during pregnancy.”
Pinkney knew she needed to get help and found PSI and Mullin, who helped her through her feelings with both medication and talk therapy every other week. She even helped prepare Pinkey for her second pregnancy.
Pinkney lost her job three days after finding out that she was pregnant the second time, and then she and her husband also learned that their baby had a condition that would require surgery after their daughter was born. But because she was more prepared and had the support she needed, she did not experience the same anxiety as she did with her first baby.
For example, Mullin noted that Pinkney toured the NICU and met the large team that would be present when her baby was born so that it would feel less overwhelming.
“Kayla helped me through dealing with the worries and anxiety,” Pinkney said.
However, this time, Pinkney’s husband ended up struggling with his feelings, which illustrates that mothers aren’t the only ones whose mental health can be affected by a birth. He got help by attending a support group and he also sought counseling from a PMH-C therapist.
“I’m excited to see the shift in that you don’t have to be a martyr,” Pinkney said. “You can get help. You don’t have to feel that way. Therapy and/or medication is a great place to start.”
Mary Wade Burnside is the public information officer at Monongalia County Health Department.





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