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Maternal Mental Health with The Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center

Maternal Mental Health with The Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center
Maternal Mental Health with The Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center
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May is Mental Health Awareness Month and we caught up with Doctor Taren Swindle, Ph.D. with the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center.

Doctor Swindle says about 1 in 5 women experience anxiety and depression during pregnancy and after they deliver. And it's important for women to know – you are not alone!

What to look out for:

  1. Anxiety can feel like being restless, having trouble concentrating, irritability, recurring physical problems like head or belly aches, and feelings of fear or worry.
  2. Depression feels like a sadness or heaviness that won’t go away, and you may experience little pleasure in things you usually enjoy. If you notice these things continuing more than a week or two, you deserve attention.

"In short, healthy moms make a healthy community and society. A mom’s well-being matters very much for the well-being of her child. For example, a mom’s mental health impacts how responsive she is able to be to her child and how she interacts with her child. If things go untreated, a mom’s mental health can influence mental health concerns for her child in both the short and long term. Thus, how a mom is able to parent her new child matters for how that child develops. So if you know a pregnant or new momma, it may mean a world of difference to check in on her and give a helping hand. New moms may feel bad for feeling bad, so let her know she can let you know how she is really doing without judgement. Then, make it a point to keep checking in over that first year," says Dr. Taren Swindle.

Swindle says when it comes to supporting maternal mental health there two key things.

  1. The first thing is remembering that it’s very common to experience these issues. Your doctor will not be surprised, and they will be ready to help. Have that conversation as soon as you begin to experience the symptoms we were discussing.
  2. Finding a supportive therapist can be very helpful to moms as they adjust to the transition of having a new baby or now multiple babies in their home.

For available resources you can visit:

"Once those supports are in place, there are other things a mom can do to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression," Swindle says.

Movement is especially important during pregnancy. It helps to reduce depression, increase emotion regulation, and improve emotional well-being.

Something interesting to know is that exercise during pregnancy reduces postpartum depression after delivery. A good target is to move for about 150 min per week. That averages to just over 20 minutes per day- very doable! This goes against many cultural myths that suggest women should not move too much while pregnant. That‘s false! Swindle says women they have worked with have noted that adding a movement practice into their daily routines actually gives them more energy and they feel better prepared for labor.

Another way to improve mental health is to make some healthy swaps in your diet. Eating more healthy foods like lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains may help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

And finally, find support from family and friends. Relying on others when needed and spending time with those that encourage you can help reduce symptoms of depression, especially.

Sometimes society gives the message that mothers should know it all and do it all on their own. That’s just not true. It’s ok to ask for help!

The Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center currently has a study called "Community Expecting".

It's based on a prior ACNC clinical study called Expecting. Expecting randomized pregnant women with excess weight to exercise with a trainer 3 times a week or to continue their usual routine and doctor’s recommendations.

Swindle says both mothers and their children that were in the activity group saw health benefits. They have made the study a group training experience in community settings to increase social support for mothers and to see if the women that participate have better outcomes for themselves and their infants.

Community Expecting is a study specifically focused on women who have not been active and have extra weight. It's currently being done in Little Rock and ACNC is looking to launch in Pine Bluff soon.

Expecting moms – and even if you not expecting,- you may qualify for a study at the ACNC.

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Pregnant women and Children, up to age 10 who are interested should give us a call at (501) 364-3309 or visit our website at or our Facebook/Instagram page.

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