Your mental health is important, especially during pregnancy and the year after birth (the perinatal period) when approximately 1 in 5 women experience clinical depression. Despite many women struggling to cope during this period, only half are ever identified and even less actively seek help.
Here are our 5 tips for improving your perinatal mental health.
1. Don’t expect too much of yourself
It is easy to foster idealistic visions of what motherhood might or should be like, especially with constant bombardment of social media imagery. As difficult as it may seem, try not to expect too much of yourself by building up unrealistic ideals of the birth you’ll experience, the activities you’ll do with your baby, how you and your family will embrace this life change or the mother you will be. The transition to becoming a new parent involves physical, emotional, mental, and social changes. There are many new things to learn and it takes time to adjust.
Be kind to yourself during this time. Try and prepare to be led, day by day, by how you are feeling in the moment and what you and your baby need, rather than a pre-existing plan.
Looking after a baby is not an easy feat, so be easy on yourself. Being ‘good enough’ is just fine as there is no such thing as the ‘perfect parent’.
2. Make the time to rest
At times, it can feel impossible to get enough rest when you have a new baby. Babies wake regularly for feeds, sometimes not settling, day and night and the days are filled with constant tasks, playing, changing, bathing, soothing amongst other daily chores. Sounds exhausting doesn’t it?
When your baby is napping, it is easy to feel that you should use their naptimes to ‘get stuff done’. Try to resist this urge. Create a plan to take time out for yourself to rest. Losing out on sleep affects emotional wellbeing so it is important to try and catch up when you can.
When you can, ask a family member or friend for help, or just accept that you won’t get all your household chores done for a while: that’s OK.
3. Look after yourself and build pleasant activities and experiences into every day
Self-care is important when you have a baby. While you can plan for having a baby, there is a lot that is simply out of your control.
Rest, gentle exercise, eating a healthy diet and taking time out to relax are all important, even though they aren’t always easy to do. To this new person in your life, you are their world, so it is important that you create the time to care for yourself. so that you can also care for them.
Most people need a balance of rewarding experiences in their lives to maintain psychological wellbeing. Some are shown below.
- Experiences that are enjoyable, pleasurable or fun.
- Experiences of satisfaction, mastery, competency or achievement in valued areas.
- Experiences of feeling positively connected to other people.
Of course, within these broad categories of rewards there will be differences between people. Your idea of fun might be someone else’s nightmare!
An important first step in keeping things balanced is to examine the rewarding experiences in your life.
Our Towards Parenthood book focuses on the main areas of change encountered by men and women as they make the transition into parenthood.
4. Find the support you need
“It takes a village to raise a child” – proverb
We no longer live in a time where we have a village community with extended family and elders who support our transition to parenthood. Despite this, there is still a need for every new parent to create their own support village. Every woman is different, every pregnancy and baby is different, and every woman’s mental health journey will be different. Therefore, every woman’s village will look a little different. Consider what personal and professional supports you have or need to develop and take time to build your village. Know that extra supports are available to you in a range of different forms including self-help advice and tools leaning on others, or if depressive symptoms are present consider talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or discussing medication with your GP. There is no single form of help for all mums so if you are finding you need extra help it is important to talk to your health professional to determine what works for you.
If you don’t feel you are getting the help you need, it is both essential and OK to speak up and be persistent.
5. Trust your feelings and seek help early
You know yourself better than anyone, so if you are feeling flat, sad, or are struggling, talk to someone close to you like a partner, friend, or family member. They can support you and help you to get any additional help you need. If you don’t feel able to do this, you could talk to a local health professional.
Your midwife, health nurse and GP often ask you about how you are feeling at your check-ups. If you are finding things tough, it’s OK to be honest with them, that is what they are there for. It is not uncommon to feel tired, unwell or feel you are not coping during your pregnancy or after the birth of your child, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. You won’t be judged if you tell someone, and it will be an important first step in getting any help you need.
We hope you find these 5 tips helpful throughout your perinatal journey.
If you are struggling check out the free online tools that range from help with sleeping and settling to daily coping tips to online treatments for depression.
If you need further help please contact one of our trusted support organisations for immediate perinatal anxiety or depression support. PANDA provides telephone support and provides a vital service across Australia by offering the only specialist national perinatal mental health telephone counselling service, as well as reducing stigma around perinatal anxiety and depression.