Your emotional health is just as important as your physical health. Pregnancy, birth and parenthood, or the loss of a baby, can all affect your emotional wellbeing. You might have existing mental health issues that seem to have gotten worse, or perhaps this is the first time you’ve struggled with your mental health. You might be feeling a bit low, or you might be experiencing much stronger feelings of depression, anxiety, trauma or other problems.

However you’re feeling, it’s so important to speak to someone about the difficulties you’re having, so that they can offer you help and support. You probably feel very alone, but it’s important to remember that many women struggle with their emotional wellbeing during and after pregnancy. It is nothing to be embarrassed about, and seeking help is the best thing that you can do for yourself and your family.

Self-care

If you’re feeling low, there are lots of things you can do to help yourself. Some of these suggestions may seem obvious, but we know that lots of new mums often forget the importance of taking proper care of themselves. As the saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup” – taking care of yourself as best you can is so important. Here are some things you can try if you are struggling:

  • Eat regularly, and drink as much water as you can. Although this is especially important when pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s important for all of us. Eating little and often helps if you’re feeling nauseous. It’s helpful to stock up on quick and healthy snacks so you can eat without much preparation and keep a water bottle to hand.

  • Cuddle your baby – have as much skin-to-skin as contact as you can. Not only is this lovely for you both, but it helps to calm you both and to reduce stress.

  • Sleep when your baby is sleeping if you can – or at least rest! We know this isn’t always possible but try not to fill your baby’s nap times with chores. The housework can wait – your rest is more important.

  • Getting some fresh air and a bit of gentle exercise can be great for your mental health. A gentle walk with your baby can make you feel much better, but don’t overdo it if you’ve recently given birth.

  • Attending baby groups or meeting up with friends for a coffee can give you a boost and stop you from feeling isolated.

  • Ask for help when you are struggling, and try to share the load. If you have a partner, ask them to take over housework or looking after older children so you can focus on your baby and yourself.

  • Be kind to yourself. Pregnancy and parenthood isn’t easy, and it’s easy to feel defeated when you are sleep-deprived and things aren’t working out as you expected. If you’re struggling with feeding or anything else, speak to your midwife or health visitor.

When to seek help

It’s completely normal to feel sad or anxious during pregnancy, after a loss, or as a new parent. We go through so many changes – physically and emotionally – during this time, it would be unusual if we didn’t struggle at times.

If you find that the feelings of sadness, anxiety or low mood aren’t going away or are affecting your ability to function as normally, it’s time to talk to someone about it.

There are lots of emotional and mental health issues that are more common during and after pregnancy (sometimes called the “perinatal period”). Wessex Healthier Together has lots of information on maternal mental health, with videos and specific information on various topics, including:

  • Antenatal and postnatal depression: most women know about postnatal depression, but it can also occur during pregnancy too (this is called antenatal depression).

  • Anxiety during and after pregnancy: anxiety causes both physical and emotional reactions to things. It is a normal response to stressful or worrying situations, but if the response is extreme or lasts a long time, it’s best to seek help.

  • Bereavement: suffering the loss of a baby, whether a miscarriage or stillbirth, is an extremely distressing experience, and there is lots of support available for you and your partner.

  • Bipolar disorder: if you have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and you are pregnant or planning to have a baby, it’s best to see your general practitioner (GP) or call your mental health team as soon as possible.

  • Birth trauma: whatever type of birth you have, you might certain aspects of it traumatic, or you might be struggling with feelings of trauma around the whole birth experience. If so, there is plenty of help and support available.

  • Dads and partners: Whether you are trying to support your partner through mental health issues or you have difficulties of your own, there’s plenty of support available for you too.

  • Drugs and alcohol during pregnancy: we know that alcohol and drug use during pregnancy can have serious effects on your baby, but there is plenty of support available to help you stop.

  • Eating disorders in pregnancy: the physical changes of pregnancy and birth can be really difficult to cope with, especially if you have a history of eating disorders.

  • Maternal obsessive compulsive disorder: OCD is an anxiety disorder, and some women will find that they develop this problem during and after pregnancy.

  • Postpartum psychosis: this is a rare mental health condition which can affect how you see and feel about the world. It usually starts in the first few weeks after birth, and can include hallucinations, delusions and confusion. It can be very frightening but there is help and treatment available.

  • Staying healthy in body and mind: find out how to take care of yourself, physically and mentally, during this time of change.

Who to talk to

If you’re struggling with your emotional wellbeing, it’s great to seek support from your friends and loved ones, but it’s also really important to speak to a professional. You can speak to your midwife, health visitor or your GP, whoever makes you feel most comfortable.

This can be daunting – lots of women feel embarrassed, find it hard to admit that they need help, or are worried about admitting that they are not coping. This is understandable but it’s important to remember that these problems are common, and the professional you speak to will have helped lots of women with similar problems. If you’d broken a bone, you would get an x-ray! It’s just as important to speak to someone when your mental health is suffering.

You can also self-refer to Steps 2 Wellbeing, who can offer you talking therapies which can be very useful. This might be enough to make you feel better, or you may need additional help, possibly medication or other support, so it’s best to also speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP.

Support groups, in person and online, can also be really helpful when you are struggling. Here are some links to groups you might find useful:

Perinatal Mental Health Team

If your midwife, GP, health visitor or other healthcare professional feels like you need more specialist help, they might refer you to the Perinatal Mental Health Team. This service provides care and support for women experiencing severe mental health problems during pregnancy and up to one year after giving birth.

The multi-disciplinary team is made up of psychiatrists, occupational therapists, nursery nurses and a parent-infant psychotherapist.  They provide assessments, treatment and support, all tailored to an individual patient’s needs. This is usually provided in a woman‘s own home where possible. However, there is also a mother and baby inpatient unit called Florence House, for those who need more care.