Expert / 3 May, 2024 / Emiliana Hall

Taking Care Of Your Mental Health During Pregnancy

Pregnancy can be an exciting and transformative time, but it can also be challenging for parents’ mental health for many reasons. The physical, hormonal and practical changes that come with growing a baby can lead to a range of emotions and symptoms, from mild mood swings to anxiety and depression.

For this Mental Health Awareness Month, Emiliana Hall, founder of The Mindful Birth Group outlines how mental health can be impacted during pregnancy, what to look out for if you are concerned and provides some practical tips on how to support your mental wellbeing during this time.

Factors that impact mental health during pregnancy

Several factors can contribute to mental health issues during pregnancy. These include:

1. Fertility journeys

Before the pregnancy has even begun, the fertility journey can be a long and often challenging process, with many parents experiencing difficulties and setbacks along the way. Unsurprisingly, infertility and baby loss are experiences that can have a profound impact on mental health and well-being and that can carry through to the pregnancy months. So if you have endured a fertility journey, be mindful of how this may impact you emotionally during your pregnancy and know that you would certainly not be alone in needing additional support.

So if you have endured a fertility journey, be mindful of how this may impact you emotionally during your pregnancy and know that you will certainly not be alone in needing additional support.

2. Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes can have a significant impact on mental health, and the fluctuation of hormones during pregnancy can cause mood swings, depression, and anxiety.

3. The birth

The prospect of giving birth can be extremely worrying for many. Education and impartial support to ensure you know what happens and what your options are is crucial to feeling confident and calm going into your unique birthing experience.

4. Relationship changes

The arrival of a new baby can cause significant changes to a parent’s relationship with their partner, family, and friends. These changes can cause stress and anxiety, and it is essential that parents receive the support they need during this time.

5. Financial concerns

The cost of raising a child can be significant, and financial concerns can cause stress and anxiety for parents. It is essential that parents plan for the financial implications of having a child and seek support where necessary.

6. Past trauma

Parents who have experienced trauma in the past may find that pregnancy triggers difficult emotions and memories. It is essential that parents seek support to help them manage any past trauma that may impact their mental health during pregnancy.

7. Pregnancy conditions

Pregnancy conditions such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and premature labour can cause significant stress and anxiety for parents. The best thing to do is seek unbiased information that makes you feel informed and comfortable with your options in relation to any conditions.

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Here are five ways to support mental wellbeing during this transformative time:

1. Prioritise self-care

Self-care is essential for maintaining good mental health, especially during pregnancy. It can include anything from a form of exercise that you enjoy and healthy eating to relaxation techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises. It is essential to take care of your body and mind during this time.

Research has shown that physical activity during pregnancy can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Walking, yoga, and swimming are low-impact options that can be effective in improving mood and reducing stress levels.

2. Seek professional help

If you are struggling with mental health issues during pregnancy, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Your midwife can refer you to a mental health specialist, such as a therapist or psychiatrist, who can provide personalised guidance and support.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment for depression and anxiety during pregnancy. It can help parents learn coping skills, manage negative thoughts and emotions, and improve communication with their partner.

3. Connect with others

Connecting with others who are going through similar experiences can be comforting and reassuring during pregnancy. Joining a support group or group antenatal class, either in-person or online, can provide a sense of community and belonging, which is a human necessity in everyday life, but especially when embarking on life changes.

4. Manage stress

Stress is a common experience during pregnancy, but it can also have a negative impact on mental health. Finding ways to manage stress, such as mindfulness techniques or relaxation exercises, can be helpful in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment and accepting thoughts and feelings without judgment. A really helpful approach for parenthood, too.

Hypnobirthing is a birth-focused set of tools and techniques that can benefit you significantly during pregnancy too.

5. Involve your partner or a loved one

Pregnancy can be a challenging time for both parents and involving your partner or a loved one in your care can be beneficial for your mental health. Encourage them to attend appointments with you, share information about your pregnancy and discuss any concerns you may have. Taking a group or private antenatal class with them could help them to connect with the pregnancy and upcoming birth.

The impact of poor mental health

Poor mental health can have a profound impact on both parents and their babies. For parents, mental health problems can lead to feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, and isolation. These feelings can make it difficult to bond with the baby and to manage the demands of caring for a newborn. In addition, untreated mental health problems can have a long-lasting impact on well-being, with many parents continuing to experience symptoms well beyond the postnatal period.

For babies, the impact of poor maternal mental health can be significant. Research has shown that maternal depression, anxiety, and stress can impact the baby’s physical and emotional development, leading to issues such as low birth weight, cognitive delays, and behavioural problems.

With the potential risks involved, it is crucial for parents to prioritize their mental health during pregnancy.

Symptoms of poor mental health

If you are struggling mentally during pregnancy or in the postnatal period, it is important to seek help and support as soon as possible. Some of the symptoms of poor mental health to look out for include:

• Low mood or feelings of sadness
• Irritability or anger
• Anxiety or panic attacks
• Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
• Lack of energy or motivation
• Feelings of guilt or worthlessness

Where to go for help

If you are experiencing poor mental health during pregnancy or in the postnatal period, there are a number of organisations and charities that can offer help and support. These include:

1. PANDAS Foundation – a UK-based charity that offers support to parents experiencing pre and postnatal depression.

2. Mind – a mental health charity that provides information, advice, and support for anyone experiencing mental health problems.

3. Maternal Mental Health Alliance – an alliance of professional and patient organisations committed to improving maternal mental health in the UK.

4. NHS – the NHS provides a range of services to support parents experiencing mental health problems, including talking therapies and medication.

Emiliana recommends sharing this article with those who will be supporting you during your pregnancy so that they know what to expect and how they can support you better too.

Taking care of one’s mental health during pregnancy can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, improve overall mood, and provide a healthier and more positive pregnancy experience. Which is what everyone deserves.

Article by Emiliana Hall, founder of The Mindful Birth Group.

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