The purpose of Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week (4-9 May 2021) is to encourage important conversations regarding mental illness during pregnancy and/or after giving birth and signposting women and their families to dedicated organisations offering advice, information and support to enable recovery.
According to The Mental Health Foundation, the most common mental health problems that are experienced during pregnancy and after birth are: anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
‘More than 1 in 10 women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby’ (Maternal Mental Health Alliance, 2021)
The statistics highlight the need for this awareness week and sheds light on the fact that we need to support women during pregnancy and after birth – whether that be a partner, colleague, friend, family member or neighbour. However, equally important to this is being mindful of women around us that may have difficulty conceiving as research shows that women with fertility problems have higher rates of anxiety and depression in comparison to fertile women.
How to Support Maternal Mental Health
Similar to how we look after our mental health generally, there are various things we can do to promote positive mental health amongst pregnant women, new mums and those trying to conceive. This includes:
- Being realistic: The images of the “perfect” parent that we see in the media and on social media can have a negative impact. Try to avoid putting further pressure on yourself. Instead, be led by what you and your baby need.
- Planning and preparing: Think about what you might need when your baby arrives, such as where to access support if needed. Also think about local activities where you can connect with other new mums: Mums Meet Up and other preparation such as easy meal planning and freezing. Try: Freezable recipes for new parents
- Looking after yourself: Continue to set time aside for self-care for you to rest, relax and recharge. Whether that be light exercise, reading a book, getting a manicure etc.
- Finding social support: Whether that be through catch-ups with friends, or through antenatal groups to connect with other parents. Just remember to get the social support that is right for you.
- Talking to someone: Don’t be afraid to open up to people around you such as a partner or friend – especially when you are struggling. Talk to someone who will listen to you without judgment, and remember there is nothing to be ashamed of. So be honest with yourself and those around you – what you are feeling is normal and there is help available. If you need further support, speak with your GP or a health care professional.
The above tips are aimed at new mums, so what about tips for managing mental health while trying to conceive? Try:
- Communicating and creating boundaries, particularly if you are continuously asked about pregnancy and your journey – don’t be afraid to be assertive and set boundaries, i.e. that you appreciate their interest but the constant reminders damage your wellbeing.
- Finding a support group – whether that be online, via a group of friends or a supportive community of people experiencing the same emotions and/or difficulties as you. That way, when you do want to talk about your journey, you can do so on your terms with people that understand your situation.
- Making self-care a priority. This may be simply through doing things you enjoy such as cooking, reading, walking or through journaling/diary writing and meditation. The important thing is that you do things that make you feel good.
Pregnant women can try the following to improve their mental wellbeing during pregnancy:
- Talking – share your concerns with people around you.
- Make a wellbeing plan.
- Regular exercise – swimming, walking, jogging, yoga or whatever else works for you.
- Meditation and breathing exercises.
- Ask for help whenever you need it.
Having a baby is a big life event so experiencing a wide range of emotions before, during and after giving birth is normal. It is impossible for women to enjoy every minute of being a new mum because all new mums, similar to the general population, will have good and bad days. However, like our general mental health and wellbeing, when women start to experience bad days or difficult emotions on a regular basis, which impacts their quality of day-to-day life, they may be experiencing poor mental health. It is okay to not feel okay but it is equally important to seek help and support when necessary. In this section, we will focus on how people and organisations can offer support.
Although it can be upsetting when someone close to us is suffering with their mental health, it is important to support them in order to aid their recovery. This means not blaming or judging them for how they are feeling, listening to them without judgement and reassuring them. However, not everyone wants to talk about their mental health. New mums in particular may not want to share their concerns out of fear of being judged, blamed or being labelled a ‘bad mum’. This emphasises the importance of checking up on new mums and looking for any changes in behaviour – look out for: extreme mood changes, withdrawal, excessive fear, worry, or anxiety.
Mind outlines a number of ways that you can support the pregnant women and new mums in your life:
Make time for them: Offer to spend casual time with them; Make time to keep in touch; Suggest activities that you used to do together; Offer to go to parent-child groups or activities together
- Be patient
- Give them space
- Learn about perinatal mental health
- Listen to them
- Don’t judge
- Offer practical support
- Support them to get help: Offer to help them arrange a doctor’s appointment – see: helping someone else seek help; Go with them to appointments, or offer to look after their child/children whilst they go to the appointment(s)
Organisations offering support:
- Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP)
- Anxiety UK
- The Association for Post Natal Illness
- Birth Trauma Association – for anyone affected by birth trauma
- The Breastfeeding Network
- Child Bereavement UK
- Gingerbread – for single parent families
- Maternal OCD
- Mums Meet Up – connecting mums locally and across the UK
- Netmums – online community for parents
- NHS UK
- PANDAS Foundation
- Tommy’s – for people affected by stillbirth, miscarriage and premature birth
Resources & References
- World Health Organization
- Mental Health Foundation
- Maternal Mental Health Alliance
- Tips to Manage Mental Health While Trying to Conceive
- Top 10 tips for mums: Perinatal mental health
- Improving mental wellbeing in pregnancy
- Pregnancy, breastfeeding and parenting information
- Maternal Mental Health – Women ’ s Voices
- Mind: Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health
Thank you for reading.
MAXWELL HODGE, MAY 2021