Maximising mental health through pregnancy and as a parent
May is Maternal Mental Health Month. As many as 1 in 5 mothers experience mental health symptoms during and/or after pregnancy. Yes, 20%. It is not unusual, and nor is it surprising. Having a baby is a huge life and relationship transition, and it is one that can also come with medical complications and trauma. The delight and discomfort of pregnancy is typically followed by months if not years of sleep deprivation, coupled with new responsibilities, changed family dynamics, and different social expectations and pressures.
If maternal mental health has been or is an issue for you, you are in good company. While it’s still a bit of a taboo subject, many, many Mums (and Dads) have a difficult time.
Here are a few things to bear in mind:
This is a point in time, things will change, continually. It’s easy to feel as if what is happening now will be forever. Remind yourself that this, like everything, will pass.
We are social animals, we are not designed to raise children on our own. Reach out, to family, to friends. Go out to groups and meet other Mums, and talk about how things really are. Use childcare if it helps. You do not have to do this alone.
Recognise that feelings are complex. It’s a myth that we all fall in love with our baby in the womb or at first sight. It’s absolutely OK to have strong and contradictory feelings, to feel love and yet resentment, to be sad at what you have lost as well as happy to now be a mum, to be excited and also scared, to be overwhelmed by how fast your emotions seem to change. The key is to let your feelings be what they are, to acknowledge and talk about them, and to know they will pass through.
A lot of focus is put on your baby, so please remember that you matter too. It’s not true to say that if the birth experience was traumatic it’s now OK because you and baby are healthy. There is so much more to it than that. Please do find time for activities that restore and energise you, be it exercise, social time, music, meditation, reading...you matter, you still exist as a separate entity and its normal to take time out for yourself. You need selfcare more now than ever.
If you find your mood is staying low, or your anxiety is not passing, you do not feel you are coping, or birth trauma is troubling you, please get professional help. It does not have to be this way. Your GP, or local primary care mental health service are there for you, as well as there being a range of local private psychotherapists and counsellors who are there to help.