By Dr. Ashley Wozniak, PT, DPT
It’s important to raise awareness about the mental health challenges many mothers face during pregnancy or postpartum, such as perinatal and postpartum depression (PPD), and perinatal and postpartum anxiety (PPA).
In my Physical Therapy practice at Inspired Maternity, I strive to view my clients with an all-encompassing approach that incorporates collaborative care. Since Inspired Maternity works with prenatal and postpartum mothers, we recognize the role of mental and emotional health during that season of life and the major role it can play in physical healing after birth.
Some of the more recent research on perinatal and postpartum mental health is looking into how physiological changes during pregnancy and postpartum impact mothers both physically and mentally.
For example, moms often incur a lot of stress during pregnancy – anticipating the stress of what taking care of a new baby will be like, possible fear of the labor and birth process itself, the amount of social support (or lack thereof) she’ll receive at that time, what her work life will be like postpartum, as well as physical stress from the body rapidly changing plus the aches and pains of pregnancy.
These stresses can create responses in the body that slow down physical postpartum healing. Most prior research on PPD and PPA has focused on the role of hormonal changes during the postpartum period. New research is examining the role of stress and inflammation that occurs in a mother’s body after giving birth and how that impacts maternal mental health.
Research is also finding that greater amounts of social isolation and lack of social support for new mothers can increase the risk of postpartum mental health issues.
Begin with the breath
Although Physical Therapists such as myself focus primarily on the physical aspects of healing for moms after giving birth, we also need to be screening and paying attention to the other factors mothers are going through – such as mental health and emotional issues.
Many of my programs begin with breath work for this very reason. Whether or not a client chooses to share current or past experiences that may be impacting her healing, working with the breath and meditation can help to slow down the physiological changes that stress brings on. Slowing down the neurological system can help lower stress levels, which is a critically important aspect of healing that’s often overlooked in the postpartum journey.
A model of collaborative care is key for all practitioners who work with prenatal and postpartum women – from midwives and OBs, to doulas, lactation consultants, mental health practitioners, and physical therapists. The goal is to help the mother get started with the area of care that she needs the most to begin full healing.
If we all work together to increase awareness of maternal mental health issues, we can help create a better system and situation for pregnant and postpartum moms to get the care that they need – for all aspects of their health: physical, mental and emotional.
What are your goals?
Inspired Maternity is a one of a kind Pregnancy and Postnatal Health, Wellness and Fitness Studio located in Peoria, Ill. We offer in-studio prenatal and postpartum fitness programs and Physical Therapy assessments throughout the calendar year, as well as virtual options and telehealth visits.