Every month we are fortunate to be able to call on the wisdom of NHS GP, Dr Tara @themedicmummy. This month she discusses maternal mental health and positive steps you can take to boost your happiness after giving birth.
It’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week – this is a great campaign dedicated to talking about mental health problems during pregnancy and after birth.
Read our feature Preparing for Baby for more advice from Dr Tara.
It's normal not to feel normal
Having a baby is a big life-changing event and it’s natural to be feeling a range of emotions - excited, scared, worried, happy... It can all be overwhelming at the start of your journey of pregnancy and parenthood. Many people expect this time to be full of constant joy and happiness but this isn’t the case for everyone. It is an emotional time and it is normal to have periods when you are feeling sad or worried. However, if you recognise these feelings are persisting and starting to affect your ability to manage day-to-day life, it is important to ask for help as you may be experiencing postnatal depression.
Sometimes women experiencing mental health problems feel guilty, embarrassed or afraid to talk about how they are feeling. It is important to know that you are not alone, up to one in five women experience mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth. This is why it is so important to raise awareness and talk openly about maternal mental health so that we can recognise the signs and symptoms and offer help and support early on.
Noticing the signs
Many women experience a brief period of feeling low, anxious and tearful after giving birth. This is often called the ‘Baby Blues,’ and is most likely due to hormonal changes. This usually resolves after two weeks and is generally manageable. Postnatal depression usually starts within one to two months of giving birth, but it can be later. You may experience symptoms such as:
- Feeling low, unhappy, tearful for most or all the time
- Feeling irritable or angry with your partner, baby or children
- Lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
- Difficulty sleeping at night and waking up very early in the morning
- Changes in appetite
- Lack of interest in things you normally like
- Difficulty bonding with baby
- Negative or guilty thoughts
- Lack of confidence
- You may not want to see friends or family
If you are feeling like this, speak to your doctor, midwife or health visitor as soon as possible. They will be able to discuss the various treatment options and support available to you. This can include self-help strategies, talking therapies (such as counselling) and medications.
It is important that you make time to take care of yourself.
You can start with something small and gradually build on this. Here are a few ideas of what you can do:
1. Make time for yourself
Make some time for yourself to do activities that you enjoy and find relaxing, such as going for a walk, having a warm bath, reading a book, attending pre/postnatal classes, meeting friends or listening to music.
2. Create a routine
It may be helpful to have a simple, flexible plan for your day; this can offer some structure, reassurance and a sense of achievement. It can be small things that can make a difference to how you feel, like having a shower, getting dressed or going for a short walk. You can plan a small activity for each day such as seeing a friend, spending time outdoors, reading a magazine, watching your favourite TV show, meditating, attending a local support group or trying out an antenatal/postnatal class. It’s ok if things don’t go to plan or you have difficult days, it can be difficult following a routine with a baby so don’t push yourself too hard and remember to be kind to yourself.
Exercise is particularly helpful in boosting your mood. This could involve going for a walk with your baby, a yoga class, dancing at home to your favourite playlist or attending a postnatal class. There are so many benefits!
Some of the benefits of walking are:
- Walking allows you to get fresh air, practice some breathing exercises and clear your mind
- It may also help encourage good sleeping for baby. A study found that babies that slept well at night were exposed to more light in the early afternoon. (Y. Harrison 2004 European Sleep Research Society, J. Sleep Res., 13, 345-352 )
- If you are walking with baby it gives you a chance to spend quality time together in nature, feeling the breeze, hearing the birds and smelling the flowers.
- It’s a good starting point and will help to build up your fitness and increase stamina.
- It can help strengthen the abdominal muscles, relieves stress and promotes better sleep
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ and as new parents, we know how difficult this is. Getting good quality sleep may feel impossible but try to get as much rest whenever you have the chance. This may involve asking your partner to help with night feeds or accepting help from friends or family to look after your baby while you take a nap.
5. Ask for help and support
Don’t be afraid to ask for or accept help from family and friends, practical and emotional support can be vital in helping you to cope during this time. This might involve help with cooking, shopping, housework, childcare or even just to keep you company.
There are local support and advice groups which can be reassuring and help you feel less isolated by speaking to other women who are experiencing something similar. The doctors, midwives, health visitors and voluntary organisations are all available to offer you information and support that you need to help with your mental health.
Helplines | Mind
Home page - PANDAS Foundation UK
Parenting and Family Support - Family Lives (Parentline Plus)
About our pregnancy information service | Tommy's (tommys.org)
APNI - Association for Post-Natal Illness | Post Natal Depression
The Everyone’s Business Campaign | Maternal Mental Health Alliance
All images by @themedicmummy
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