Childbearing Effects on Mental Health
-By Sania Patel
Mental health illnesses are often mentioned in casual conversations in modern times. However, there are very few focuses on the mere causes of mental health issues, despite the staggering statistics. A study conducted by Mental Health America, recorded, in 2021, that over forty-seven million Americans were currently suffering from a mental illness. 4.55 percent of US Americans were experiencing severe mental illness, meaning some or all physical capabilities had been hindered.
To go beyond the United States, China stands at approximately 17.5 percent of its citizens suffering from mental illnesses. In India, the World Health Organization recorded that over 200 million people, or every one in five Indians, suffer from depression. The United Kingdom reported that about one in four people experience a mental health problem each year. Impoverished nations, such as Africa, experience much more harrowing statistics, however, unlike the areas previously mentioned, their statistics are closely related to the issues of childbearing and maternal health.
In the most simplified of terms, childbearing is the process of conceiving, being pregnant with, and giving birth to children. Julieta Kaventuna, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, in Nambia, spoke at the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) regional conference in Windhoek. She stated that,
“Around one in five women will experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth, but maternal mental health disorders are treatable.”
She went on to explain that the issue of postpartum mental health illness is important not only because of the effects on the mother’s health, but also because of the effects on the child’s health, which may impact their emotional, cognitive, and even physical development.
The conference also addressed that an estimated 10 percent of pregnant women and 13 percent of women, who have given birth, experience a mental disorder, primarily depression. Data from the World Health Organization suggests that the rate is higher in developing countries at around 16 percent during pregnancy and 20 percent after childbirth.
The effects of childbirth on both mental and physical well-being are various, as each situation determines the mother’s pre and post-natal care. Certain nations may face better or worse conditions for the treatment of mothers, which, in turn, greatly affects their mental health. The United States, in particular, has the highest rate of death among pregnant women and new mothers. For Americans of color, rates of maternal mortality in the U.S. are abnormal, pointing at potential abuse during childbearing and conceiving.
Childbearing causes many physical infections and other conditions, which can further affect a mother’s mental health. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), names a few. One condition a new mother may experience is anaemia. Anaemia is the condition of having a lower-than-normal number of healthy red blood cells. This causes women to feel tired, weak, and nauseated; however, the solution of taking iron and folic acid supplements is fairly simple. The second most popular physical condition is Urinary Tract Infections (UTI). UTI can cause pain or burning when using the bathroom, fever, tiredness or shakiness, pressure in the lower belly, nausea, or back pain. UTI is commonly treated by a health provider and antibiotics.
Even more common than the physical effects of childbearing, are the mental effects. Women before and after giving birth often experience depression. Due to the varying levels of hormones and sleep deprivation, mothers often experience a low or sad mood. They may face problems thinking, concentrating, and making decisions, as well as suicidal thoughts and changes in appetite. Depression can make it difficult for a woman to take care of herself and her baby.
Women also experience hypertension (high blood pressure) and, due to this, may face obesity and weight gain. These conditions can lead to preeclampsia, GDM, stillbirth, and cesarean delivery if they are developed before childbirth. Diabetes is common to develop during pregnancy, along with infections, due to a pregnant woman’s compromised immune system. Infections with HIV, viral hepatitis, STDs, and TB are also common, as well as Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Hyperemesis Gravidarum causes nausea and vomiting and is considered a common illness among women during their first three months of pregnancy.
Overall, childbearing can cause immense mental health disparities. It can increase depression, anxiety, The Royal College of Phshyiatricts lists several issues that may arise during and after pregnancy including, the changes in one’s role (stopping work to become a mother), changes in relationships, fear that there will be problems with the pregnancy or the baby, fear of childbirth, physical health problems due to pregnancy complications, lack of support, and the fear of being alone. All of these worries are common, however, they contribute to the statistic that about one in five women has mental health problems in pregnancy or after birth.
Depression and anxiety, the most common mental health problems due to childbearing, can affect about ten to fifteen out of every one hundred pregnant women. These conditions can worsen if a mother has experienced them previously. The severity can also differ depending on previous history of an eating disorder, as a woman’s body will change in weight and shape during and after pregnancy.
If a mother of pregnant women is experiencing these mental health issues, it is important to discuss their conditions with a medical professional. The most common treatment is therapy - medications are less common due to the hormone imbalances and child defects it may cause.