It’s estimated that mental illnesses affect more than one in five women during pregnancy and the first year after childbirth, which is also known as the perinatal period. Issues can include anxiety disorders, depression and postnatal psychotic disorders.
The way you’re feeling now – especially when your baby is still doing somersaults in your womb instead of being cradled in your arms – is completely normal. So normal, in fact, it’s shared by just about every mum-to-be at some point in pregnancy.
It’s normal to feel anxious about becoming a parent
It’s a normal human emotion to be worried or scared about things that are unknown to us, and in fact shows what a great parent you will be. It’s a worry that affects everyone, even those in stable relationships, those who are emotionally and financially secure. Most people never truly feel “ready” and have many fears, but it has no bearing whatsoever on the kind of parent you will be or how you will adapt to your new life with a baby.
A lot of people feel terrified when they find out they are pregnant. It’s a completely natural way to feel. Talking to friends and relatives may help with this, and if you do become pregnant don’t hesitate to confide in your midwife or doctor, but know you are very much not alone in feeling this way.
I am feeling really unhappy
If you’re feeling confused or unhappy, talk to someone you trust about your feelings. You can also speak to your GP or midwife about a referral to a counsellor – it’s helpful to share your concerns and talk things through.
There are a range of people who can support you if you’re finding things challenging.
Friends and family
Try to be as open as you can with your family and friends about what you’re going through. Support from family and friends can benefit many women who are experiencing difficulties before or after the birth of a child. For some people, this extra practical or emotional support is enough to set them on the road to recovery.
Midwives or maternal, child and family health nurses
If you’ve been seeing a midwife during pregnancy and/or a maternal and child health nurse after the birth, they’re a good place to start. As well as providing practical support and advice about feeding, sleep and child development, they can help you work out if what you’re going through suggests you may have a mental health condition.
Talking things through with your GP can also be a useful initial step. They can assess your overall health and wellbeing, make a diagnosis and either provide continuing treatment or refer you to a mental health specialist, such as a psychologist.
Try and be as open and honest as possible about how you’re feeling and what’s going on. Ask plenty of questions and make sure you get clarification on anything you’re not sure about. If you feel that your needs aren’t being met, don’t give up. It can take time to find someone who you can talk comfortably with.
Becoming a new parent can be one of the most stressful things you will experience. Finding ways to look after yourself that fit in with your lifestyle and needs can make a big difference to your mental health and wellbeing.
You can experience any kind of mental health problems during and after pregnancy, but there are some that are particularly common or are specifically linked to pregnancy and childbirth.
Expand your support network
Get talking to other new parents, you will find you are not alone in how you are feeling, many new parents will share the anxieties and frustrations you are experiencing. It can also give you a chance to share skills and experiences, help you realise that you are not alone and make new friends, above all, give you some emotional and practical support.
Things you can do to expand your support network:
- Join local parent-and-baby groups – you may feel nervous, if you do try something based around an activity such as music or baby yoga, which might make it easier to start talking to other parents.
- Contact specialist organisations or groups for new parents. There are lots of organisations that can help new parents to develop their support networks, such as NCT or Home-Start
- Get some online support. There are lots of online communities for parents, people experiencing mental health problems and specifically parents experiencing mental health problems. Websites like netmums and mumsnet have forums where you can talk to other parents. Mind runs an online peer support community called Elefriends for anyone who wants support for their mental health. PND & Me connects people with experience of perinatal mental health problems primarily through twitter.
- Try peer support. Many organisations run peer support programmes for specific diagnoses.
Coping with daily tasks
Coping with household tasks as well as looking after a new baby is a challenge for anyone. Finding some ways to help you to manage them day-to-day can help take the pressure off and make you feel more able to cope.
- Accept some extra help. If your friends or family members offer to do the shopping, cook meals or do some cleaning, say yes! There’s nothing wrong with needing some support, and your family and friends will want to do something to help you.
- Cook meals in advance. If you don’t have anyone around who can come and help, you can make planning food easier by batch cooking meals in advance and freezing them. Take advantage of times when you have more energy to cook, so you can have access to fast and healthy meals.
- Take things slowly. It’s easy to start to feel overwhelmed when you’re looking after a new baby on top of regular life. Try setting yourself 20 minutes to do what you can of a task, whether that’s throwing things in the washing machine or sorting through your paperwork. Doing things in bite size chunks can make tasks feel more manageable.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself. You might want to keep up with all the things you used to do – but looking after a new baby is a full time job. Try not to set unrealistic standards or get frustrated if you don’t do the things you planned to do.
Taking time for you
Finding time to think about yourself while looking after your baby may feel like a big challenge, but by making small changes, you can find ways to take time to look after you.
- Keep active. This could be going for a walk with the pram, dancing to music at home or gentle yoga. Physical activity can boost your mood, and help you feel like you’re getting to do some things just for yourself.
- Try to get some sleep. Getting good sleep with a new baby might sound impossible! Giving yourself time to rest can make a big difference to how you feel. Try sleeping whenever your baby sleeps or, if you can, ask your partner to help with night feeds.
- Take time to relax. You might feel like you have no time for yourself, or that all you do is sit around at home, but actively taking time to relax can mean more than just watching the TV. Think about what really helps you unwind, whether it’s reading a book, doing some gardening or doing crafts, and try to make a bit of time – even just five minutes – to do something that makes you feel good.
As a family member or friend you may want to support someone experiencing a perinatal mental health problem. It may be difficult, upsetting and frustrating to live with, or be close to, someone who is experiencing a perinatal mental health problem – but it’s important not to blame them for how they are feeling.
Some people who experience perinatal mental health problems may be reluctant to ask for help, out of fear that they might be judged as a bad parent or that it will result in their baby being taken away from them.
It can be really important for you to reassure them that many people have these experiences, and that they can get better.
Make time for them
You might worry that you’re intruding or think that your loved one might not feel able or ready to ask for your help and support, this is normal to feel this way – but it’s always worth offering your support to show that you care.
Some tips to help you make time for them:
- Offer to spend casual time with them. Just having some company while getting on with daily tasks and looking after their baby can help make your loved one feel less isolated and more supported.
- Make time to keep in touch. If you feel they are struggling with their mental health, it can make a big difference to them if they feel that you’re thinking of them and actively want to spend time together.
- Suggest activities that you used to do together. Becoming a parent can make some people feel as if they’re losing touch with who they were before becoming a parent, it can help if you can find things to do together that you did before they became a parent.
- Offer to go to parent-child groups or activities together if your loved one is feeling nervous about going alone.
It takes time for new parents to adjust - so be patient
- Offer them some space. They might feel under pressure to be positive about becoming a parent, and it might take some time for them to feel able to talk and share their feelings and experiences.
- Listening is key. You might want to offer advice or encourage them to think about how happy they are to have their baby, but they might feel as if they’re being criticised. Try to listen to what they want to share.
- Don’t judge. If they open up about distressing thoughts and feelings, try not to judge them. Remember, it’s likely that they will find it very difficult to talk about these sorts of thoughts, so the best thing you can do is not judge.
Practical things you can do to help
The best way to find out what they need is to ask them. However, they may feel very low and might find it difficult to make suggestions. You might want to offer to:
- do some cleaning, laundry and other household tasks
- help to cook and do the shopping
- look after the baby, so they can get some rest or have some time to do something they would like to do.
Supporting them to get help
Asking for help can be a very difficult thing to do, and even more so if you’re worried that you might be judged as a bad parent.
- Offer to help them arrange an appointment with their GP.
- Ask them if they are happy for you to go with them to appointments. You could offer to look after their baby or older children, or help them plan what they’d like to talk about.
- Help them research different options for support, such as peer support groups or parenting groups.
Light – pre and post natal support
Tel: 0114 438 8962 between 9am–4.30pm, Monday to Friday
Light raises awareness and offers support to families experiencing perinatal mental illness whilst being pregnant or after giving birth, such as postnatal depression and anxiety. It provides peer to peer support, support groups, telephone and email support.
Rotherham & Barnsley Mind
Tel: 01709 919929 between 9am – 4pm, Monday to Friday
We are committed to supporting those in need by promoting good mental health and offering high quality support so that no-one feels alone when dealing with mental health problems. Rotherham & Barnsley Mind aims to be inclusive and accessible. They offer a variety of services including one-to-one counselling, group sessions, support for young people, training and services for employers.
Rotherham Perinatal Mental Health Service
Tel: 03000 215209 between 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday
220 Badsley Moor Lane, Rotherham, S65 2QU
The Rotherham Perinatal Mental Health Service provide support, treatment and a safe space for women experiencing perinatal mental health issues either during their pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth.
RDaSH Crisis Team
0800 652 9571 (calls to this number are FREE)
If you or someone you know has concerns about their immediate health RDaSH Crisis Team can help. One of our trained call handlers will signpost you to the most appropriate service depending on your level of need. This may include your out of hours GP, a voluntary organisation or our access/crisis team.
Hard of hearing? Deaf? For anyone unable to use the standard telephone line, i.e. hard of hearing, there is a text phone service available.
Please text 07974 603610
The Perinatal Treatment website offers free, evidence-based mental health treatments for new parents. There are videos, online treatments, resources and questionnaires for mums and dads.
Action on Postpartum Psychosis
Tel: 020 33229900
Information and peer support service for women and families affected by postpartum psychosis. One to one support is available by messaging online with a trained peer supporter or there is a PPTalk online support forum.
Office: 020 7398 3400
Pregnancy Line: 0800 0147 800
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm
Tommy’s is a charity funding research into the causes of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. Tommy’s provides information for parents-to-be to help them have a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Baby Buddy App is an interactive pregnancy and parenting guide providing trusted, evidence-based information and self-care tools to help parents build their knowledge and confidence during the transition to parenthood and throughout the early stages of parenting.
Peanut connects women across fertility and motherhood. Meet, chat and learn from like-minded women.
HealthUnlocked is the world’s largest social network for health. Find and connect with people with a similar health condition. The service has over 700 online communities focused on health and wellbeing topics.
The NHS App gives you a simple and secure way to access a range of NHS services on your smartphone or tablet.
You can use the app if you are aged 13 or over. You must be registered with an NHS GP surgery in England or the Isle of Man. You can also log in through the NHS website on a computer to use NHS App services.