woman holding new born baby

The transition to motherhood: Matrescence and Postnatal Depression

Postnatal Depression and Adjusting to Life Changes with Motherhood

The early weeks and months of motherhood can be a very tough and difficult time. It often comes with emotional confusion and overload for mothers. During this time, mothers experience significant changes. This transformation is called Matrescence.

As can be heard, the name sounds similar to adolescence which, of course, is the transition to becoming an adult. Both of these times, adolescence and matrescence are filled with big hormonal changes, which can lead to feelings of confusion, feelings of loss of identity, emotional highs and lows etc. As we know there are endless amounts of books focused on adolescence and how to navigate such a time. However, there seems to be less focus on how to navigate the transition into motherhood. Mothers are almost expected to adapt and adjust, feel amazing, happy and loved like no other despite the fact that they are putting their baby in front of all of their needs or wants. When these expectations don’t play out how we had thought it was ‘meant’ to, we can find ourselves in a really challenging place.

Why is the transition to motherhood such a difficult time?

During matrescence, there appears to be a push and pull concept. Babies are super dependent on us, and physiologically during matrescence, our bodies produce the love hormone oxytocin. This hormone puts us in a position that makes us feel like the babies are and need to be the centre of our lives. On the other hand, the push part tells us that just because the baby is born, it doesn’t mean that the rest of our needs don’t matter. We may think, ‘it can’t just all be about the baby. What about me?’. This push and pull concept can make us feel really torn between our baby and our lives – how much you love your baby but how much time you crave for yourself, which in turn can lead to feelings of frustration and exhaustion.

What can I do during this difficult time?

Support during this confusing roller coaster ride is very important. Whilst matrescence is such a common experience for many women and whilst it needs to be normalised more in society, if the right support is not there throughout this time, it can lead to more severe conditions such as postnatal depression. We know seeking help early on is key, particularly during this challenging time of transformation in your life.

Support may look like speaking to a psychologist, friends or family, your local GP or your maternal child health nurse. Ensuring that you are also tuning into your needs during this time is essential, even if it is in the confinement of your own home – this may look like being present while you drink a nice hot cuppa, having a warm shower alone when possible, or even popping on a lovely scented candle. We know during this time, many people may offer to help, but sometimes it can feel like the ‘wrong’ help. Thinking about what the ‘right’ kind of help is and what is needed is important too.

What is Postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression differs from the more common matrescence in that it is a psychological condition that may continue for months or more, occurring during pregnancy or after childbirth. It is recognised that depression associated with having a baby often begins during pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of postnatal depression?

  • depressed mood or depression with anxiety
  • anhedonia- loss of interest in things that would normally bring pleasure
  • significant changes in weight or appetite
  • sleep disturbance and fatigue—common symptoms of depression but very difficult to gauge, since both are normal for new mothers
  • physical feelings of being slowed down or restlessness, jumpiness and edginess
  • excessive feelings of guilt or worthlessness, which can be exacerbated by not bonding with the baby
  • diminished concentration and inability to think clearly, which can be worsened by sleep deprivation
  • recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. For example, the woman may catch herself thinking that she and the baby are better off dead or that “the world is such an awful place to bring a new child into that we would be better out of it.”

A woman experiencing postnatal depression usually has several of these symptoms, and the symptoms and their severity may vary. These symptoms may cause new mothers to feel isolated, guilty, or ashamed.

Who is at risk of postnatal depression?

Any new mother (or gestational carrier/surrogate) can experience symptoms of postnatal depression. Women are at increased risk of depression during or after pregnancy if they have previously experienced (or have a family history of) depression or other mood disorders, if they are experiencing particularly stressful life events in addition to the pregnancy, or if they do not have the support of family and friends.

Research suggests that rapid changes in sex and stress hormones, and thyroid hormone levels during pregnancy and after delivery have a strong effect on moods and may contribute to postnatal depression.

What are the treatment options?

Like other types of depression, postnatal depression can be managed through therapy, medication (if required/desired), lifestyle changes and a supportive environment or a combination of these.

How can Positive Wellbeing Psychology help?

At Positive Wellbeing Psychology, our psychologists adopt a holistic approach to adjustment to becoming a new mother and what may come with significant life changes. Our psychology practice has warm and compassionate psychologists with a special interest in women’s health and the postnatal period of becoming a new parent. It is recommended to connect with professionals with specific knowledge of the postnatal period to help feel better supported and guided through adjustments and symptom management. Reach out to our warm and compassionate psychologists today should you feel unsupported or need an added layer of support to your existing network.

<strong>Written by Psychologist Brigitte Laville at Positive Wellbeing Psychology</strong>
Written by Psychologist Brigitte Laville at Positive Wellbeing Psychology

Brigitte is a genuine, friendly, and approachable psychologist, who hopes to make the experience of seeking support as welcoming and comfortable as possible. Brigitte knows that seeing a psychologist can be a daunting and anxiety-provoking experience at first. Apart from her special knowledge and interest in women’s health issues such as PCOS, Brigitte has the experience and an interest in body image, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, stress, sleep, low self-esteem, adjustment difficulties and major life transitions (including transition into motherhood).

Brigitte has been recognised as part of the Australian and New Zealand Academy for Eating Disorders Credential Program. Brigitte has worked on numerous research studies in her Master of Educational and Developmental Psychology including investigating the body image relationship between mother and daughter, and social comparisons in children and body image. Furthermore, Brigitte contributed to a published book related to health psychology topics specifically around body image and mental health.

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