The perinatal period refers to the time before, during, and after pregnancy. There has been an increased awareness and recognition of the importance of regular mental health care. However, this has still to permeate maternal mental health care. While professionals may recommend mothers to see a mental health care professional when they are showing signs of anxiety or depression, it is often left aside the benefits of seeing a mental health professional as a preemptive method. This would be of benefit not only to the mother but to the child’s mental health as well; it'd impact their psychological and physical development, the quality of attachments they will develop, and it'll become part of their internal dynamics and influence their future relationships.
1. New challenges
Motherhood brings new life challenges and presents a variety of new situations. From trying to figure out the logistics of prenatal care, delivery, and following the size of the baby this week, to fighting off imageries of ‘worst-case scenarios’, things not going according to plan, or wondering if you have enough social support… It can feel overwhelming! A mental health professional would help you explore your worries, make plans for appropriate self-care, and develop coping mechanisms. It’s a caring ear, no judgment, no unsolicited parenting advice. A compassionate other that is there for your needs.
2. Exploring your own experiences
We create schemas as we interact with the world- representations of a plan, a model, or an explanation of how things work. You may notice that your expectations of pregnancy, parenthood, partnerships -and probably everything else in life- are challenged. If you had difficulties during your childhood or teenage years, you may worry about repeating the same patterns of interaction received from your caregivers. Thoughts of “Am I adequate?”, “Am I ready?”, or “How am I going to care for three kids at once?” may flood your mind. Can you think of a moment like this? Our first experiences, especially in the first 18 months of life, deeply influence our lives. A mental health professional facilitates the exploration of your own experiences growing up, expectations of parenthood, and learning about fostering a secure bond and attachment with your child.
3. Stress and mothers’ responses
Research has identified stress as a factor that has the potential to disrupt parenting practices. During stressful episodes, mothers are less sensitive, more irritable, critical, and punitive… show less warmth and flexibility in their mother-child interactions. Yikes! But nowadays, show me someone who is not stressed? Stress is not a bad word, it’s not a boogeyman out to hurt us. Stress is a good thing; it keeps us alert and alive. The problem is when we can’t cope with the amount of stress (or rather how we feel and perceive stressors) and we end up resorting to less-than-optimal coping strategies. Fostering your availability to regulate your psychophysiology is not only beneficial for you... through caregiver-child interactions, children develop their own regulation strategies.
4. Epigenetic changes
Epigenetics study the modification of gene expression without altering the DNA sequence. The internal and external environment of an individual stimulates changes at a cellular level. In development, there are critical or sensitive periods in which we are more susceptible to environmental influences. Our brains go through a magnificent growth sprout that spans from the last trimester to when we reach 5-years-old. Specifically, our right side of the brain- our most emotional side of the brain- is particularly sensitive and goes to a growth sprout during the first 18 months after birth. Having this in mind gives us an idea of how critical it is for us, our families, and society, to take good care of mothers' health.
There are so many more reasons to add mental health checkups for perinatal care. Perinatal mental health care can positively influence the child’s environment and serve as a protective factor for lifespan development. Also, it is hurtful to try to give from an empty cup...
"Self-care is not "putting yourself first." It's only through fueling ourselves that we can create the energy for the people we love." -Jenna Davis, Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern
Jones, D., Park, J., Gamby, K., Bigelow, T., Mersha, T., Folger, A. (n.d.) Mental Health Epigenetics: A Primer With Implications for Counselors. Web. https://tpcjournal.nbcc.org/mental-health-epigenetics-a-primer-with-implications-for- counselors/ Schore, A. N. (2012). The science of the art of psychotherapy. W. W. Norton & Company. Thaina Cordero is the care coordinator at Cypress Wellness Center. She has an MS in Educational Psychology and is a certified trauma-informed yoga teacher. Reach out for help identifying a therapist that better suits your health, financial, and scheduling needs. Email: email@example.com