Pregnancy and the birth of a baby is supposed to be a time of great happiness and excitement, but for many new parents-to-be, the reality can be far from this.
Maternal mental health week aims to focus on the issues of mental health that affect pregnant and new parents, which are often not discussed openly and in 2021, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Whilst some anxiety and worry is normal and to be expected for any pregnant person or new parent, for many – in fact one in five – their experience is affected by low moods, anxiety, depression or some form of mental health problem during their pregnancy or in the year after birth.
Recent studies highlight that pregnant women and new mothers are three times as likely to suffer from poor mental health in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Before the pandemic up to 20 per cent of women developed a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby, however in lockdown, six in 10 mothers had substantial concerns around their mental health and were more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, loneliness and suicidal thoughts during the Covid-19 crisis.
The rise in maternal mental health issues has been triggered by a range of additional stresses including anxiety about being forced to give birth alone without a partner and financial worries linked to being made redundant. Women also had less support from family members, friends and networks of expectant or new mothers because of the pandemic.
Women of colour and women from poorer economic backgrounds have a greater chance of suffering mental health problems while pregnant and after childbirth, the study suggested.
However there is good news; dozens of new mental health hubs are being set up across England to help thousands of new, expectant and bereaved mothers, by providing proper mental health care.
And most importantly the conversation is happening around maternal mental health so we can all focus on supporting ourselves and others to manage the emotional changes that happen in pregnancy and getting support. Read on for some tips on what to do and what to look out for when it comes to maternal mental health.
It’s OK not to be OK
Pregnancy can be emotionally challenging, but there are things you can do to cope with any anxiety or stress. It’s natural to have mixed emotions about it. You may swing from excited to worried, or happy to sad and back again. Pregnancy hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone can contribute to giving you this mix of emotional highs and lows, especially in the first three months.
Pregnancy also changes your body, which can also affect how you feel. Some women love the physical experience of being pregnant and feel strong and positive. Others don’t enjoy pregnancy or like the way they look and feel. For example, you may have concerns about how much weight you’re putting on and how long it will take to lose it. Or you may be feeling sick or tired, which can all make you feel fed up.
Try not to be too hard on yourself. We are constantly bombarded with seemingly perfect images of happy, healthy women having the time of their lives during pregnancy in glossy magazines and on social media. But the reality is often very different. Not everyone enjoys how pregnancy affects their body and makes them feel.
It’s natural to feel a bit anxious about how pregnancy will change your body. But it’s important to ask for help if you are having negative feelings that won’t go away or that are too much to cope with. Talk to your midwife or doctor if you have any concerns or worries about your changing body.
It can take time to adjust to changes.
You may have expected to feel excited and happy throughout your pregnancy, but no one can feel positive all the time. There are many reasons why some women don’t enjoy being pregnant. It doesn’t mean it was a mistake to get pregnant or that you won’t love your baby.
Try not to feel guilty about feeling down at a time when some people expect you to be happy. How you feel is how you feel and many people will understand what you’re going through.
Share your worries
Many women find that it helps to talk to someone they trust about what’s bothering them. Talking to people about how you feel can be a huge relief and help remind you that you’re not alone. Some women use online pregnancy forums. You’ll probably find that other people are having similar experiences and you may get some good ideas about how to deal with any problems.
You may also find it helpful to talk to your midwife or doctor about how you feel.
Plan your postnatal support
Whilst a lot of pregnancy is focused on preparing for labour and birth, it is equally as important to plan whilst pregnant for after baby arrives. Start thinking about how you feel, what support you might need after the birth and who your support network is. Think about the people in your life who you can rely on for support – some will be great at practical help like doing your shopping or dropping off meals, whilst others will be the people who provide that listening ear when you need it most.
And of course, discuss with your midwife how you are feeling, any worries you have or anything that is causing you anxiety.
Get informed and prepared.
Sometimes we get anxious and stressed about things we don’t know much about and the fear of the unknown gets the best of us. Getting good information about everything pregnancy-related can help you feel more confident and in control. Our antenatal course covers in each class how to support your emotional and mental wellbeing, both in the antenatal and postnatal periods, as well as tips for partners and family.
Don’t be afraid of getting help and support.
Although it’s normal to have periods of feeling worried or low when you’re pregnant, some women have feelings that don’t go away, and this can be a sign of something more serious.
It can be really difficult to accept that you’re feeling low at a time when everyone expects you to feel happy and excited. But try to remember that mental health problems in pregnancy, such as depression and anxiety, are common, so you’re not alone. Tell your midwife or doctor how you feel. They can help you find the right treatment and support so you can take care of yourself and your baby.