Suicide is the leading cause of death in new moms

The shame of having suicidal thoughts keeps us from talking about them. Suicide is still a taboo subject in many ways. Maybe you’ve had thoughts like these yourself: 

“They’d be better off without me.”

“No one would miss me if I was gone.”

These thoughts can feel so scary, so hopeless, so paralyzing. 

Having thoughts like these doesn’t mean you’re a ‘bad mom’; no way. They mean you’re a good mom who is having scary thoughts and is deserving of support and care from those around her. 

Maternal suicide is a public health issue; it’s a “we” problem, not a “me” problem. When you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide, it’s hard to ask for help, but that’s when help from others is most necessary. It’s when you really need your village to step up, mama. 

Related: Spotting postpartum depression can be difficult. Here’s how to enlist your partner’s help

Maternal suicide is all too common

The stats on maternal suicide are staggering. 

  • Suicide is a leading cause of maternal death in the first year following childbirth.
  • Suicide accounts for up to 20% of postpartum deaths.
  • Though it can happen anytime during pregnancy and the postpartum period, one study found that maternal suicide was most frequently completed between 9 to 12 months postpartum.

At your six-week postpartum checkup, your provider should screen you for postpartum depression (PPD) and other maternal mental health disorders. 

20/20 Mom, an organization that advocates for maternal mental health and launched Maternal Suicide Awareness week (taking place Sept. 4 to 10, 2022), also recommends screening at least once during pregnancy and at least once more in addition to the six-week postpartum visit, sometime within the first 12 months postpartum. Routine screenings can help make suicidal ideation easier for patients to talk about—and easier for providers to spot. 

Related: Dear mama, you shouldn’t be an afterthought after giving birth

Maternal suicide risk factors

The postpartum period is an especially vulnerable time, given the roller coaster of changes that a new mother goes through, both physically and emotionally. It’s a period marked by hormonal flux, sleep deprivation, stress and isolation. While postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety can present without any risk factors or medical history, there are some factors that can make the conditions more common—and more likely to lead to maternal suicide risk. 

According to 20/20 Mom, there are several risk factors for maternal suicide and suicidal ideation:

  • Having PPD and experiencing sleep deprivation (common in the postpartum period)
  • Having had previous suicidal ideation and suicide attempts 
  • Experiencing depression during pregnancy
  • Experiencing pregnancy complications
  • Being a victim of intimate partner violence
  • Having PPD and having also experienced physical abuse in childhood
  • Having stopped taking an antidepressant medication due to pregnancy or breastfeeding 

Related: At my 6-week postpartum checkup, I lied to my doctor about my postpartum depression

Maternal suicide resources 

The phone numbers listed below are available to you 24/7 to help you with suicidal thoughts or other mental health crises. 

What can you do after the call?

Having thoughts about suicide can feel so isolating, yet you are not alone. It’s time to get help from a professional, make yourself a top priority ASAP and start talking about it. 

You are worthy of a commitment to your mental health and overall well-being. 

Both Postpartum Support International and the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline can connect you with support groups in your area and make referrals to local agencies that can meet your needs on the ground where you are. 

Connecting with these supports can feel so normalizing and help you find your way again. 

A one-time call to a crisis line is just one step, but you may want to seek out longer-term support, whether that’s through group therapy, individual talk therapy, or seeking professional help from a medical provider. 

Above all else, mama, please reach out for help. You are the best mother there is for your children. No one can ever replace you. These thoughts are scary and they can go away with help from a licensed clinical/medical provider. There is hope, even in your darkest hour. Reach out. Grab it. We’re rooting for you. 

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Today’s Parent is Canada’s #1 source for parenting content that informs, inspires and builds a sense of community. We help parents celebrate the happy chaos that comes with having a family and remind them that they are not alone. If you’re trying to conceive, pregnant or have children from newborn to ages 9+, you’ll get insightful information for all ages and stages on discipline, health, behaviour, education, plus easy and nutritious recipes and so much more.

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