We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health, but sometimes it can be difficult to look after our mental health, especially during and after pregnancy. Maternal mental health is your mental health during pregnancy and your journey into becoming a parent. It affects how you feel, interact with people and your capabilities and decision-making skills.
It is important to know that you’re not alone and that any low moods or sad feelings are completely normal. Here’s more on the meaning of maternal mental health.
Let’s Talk About Maternal Mental Health
Maternal mental health matters both for you and your baby. Becoming a parent can be daunting. It’s a big life event that comes with a lot of changes, both exciting and scary depending on what else is going on in your life. Typically, when we think of pregnancy, we might focus on the physical health of the individual, but it’s not all about low iron levels, high blood pressure and swollen ankles, how you’re feeling is just as important.
Lots of things change when you’re pregnant and become a parent, you have new responsibilities and commitments, and your body also changes, both physically and chemically. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that around 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental health issue, the most common disorder being depression. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found that as many as one in five mothers can develop a mental illness during and after pregnancy. Therefore, it’s seemingly quite common to develop some form of poor mental health during this time period, but despite this, maternal mental health isn’t talked about often.
Mental health impacts emotions and maternal mental health is no different, but it’s not talked about enough to make this common knowledge. Because of this, many enter pregnancy and motherhood feeling alone and isolated and therefore struggle to deal with their emotions on their own. However, the key to a healthy baby is a healthy parent, so let’s take a look at one of the most common mental issues during and after childbirth, postpartum depression, and discuss the signs and symptoms.
Recognising the Signs
Postpartum depression refers to issues concerning the mother right after childbirth. The symptoms are similar to that of any other form of depression except these types of depression occur after having a baby; the length of the disorder varies from person to person, one mother might have the issue for a few weeks and another for a few months to a year, everyone is different.
Due to a number of reasons, many mothers don’t realise that what they’re experiencing is postpartum depression. This could be due to feelings of embarrassment, not realising these feelings aren’t just a side effect of parenthood, or thinking a diagnosis and treatment will be too difficult to achieve. Another reason many mothers don’t realise that their maternal mental health is suffering is because they think they must put their new baby before themselves. But as previously mentioned, a healthy mother means a healthy baby, so it’s important to take care of yourself and prioritise your mental health.
To help with this, here are some common symptoms women experience during postpartum depression:
- Severe mood swings
- Easy to cry
- Excessive loss or increase in appetite
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Difficulty bonding with baby
- Withdrawing from others
- Brain fog and difficulty making decisions
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or baby
- Suicidal thoughts
- Reduced sex drive
- Fears of not being a good mother
Helpful Tips and Resources
As you can see, your mental health needs extra attention and support pre and post childbirth, both due to the physical pain and mental load that is experienced during this time. Emotional resilience is vital during the first year with your baby; emotional resilience is your ability to cope qith challenging situations, but with a lack of sleep, low moods and a crying baby, this can be challenging. Therefore, it’s just as important to look after yourself as it is to look after your baby and don’t be afraid to rely on others too.
Here are some helpful tips on how you can attend to your maternal mental health:
- Be kind to yourself, you’re doing a great job
- Don’t put pressure on yourself
- Get lots of rest
- Make sure to feed yourself as well as your baby
- Don’t compare yourself to others, everyone is different
- Trust yourself and your instincts
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Alternatively, if things are getting a bit too much to deal with on your own, the Maternal Mental Health Alliance has a great deal of resouces for mothers and families. Or if you’d like to talk to someone, you can always get in touch with your company or community’s mental health first aider if you have one. They can be a listening ear and help guide you in the right direction to finding the support you need. Going back to work after your maternity leave can also be daunting and a source of anxiety. This is also a scenario where speaking to your company’s mental health first aider would be beneficial for your maternal mental health. Remember, it’s okay not to be okay, so reaching out for help shouldn’t feel embarrassing or shameful, everyone needs a helping hand every now and then.
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