Looking after your mental health before, during, and after pregnancy is vital for both you and baby.
We take an in-depth look at the challenges we can face and how to cope.
The conversation around mental health during pregnancy and motherhood is sadly all too new.
As many as one in five expecting mothers experience some sort of mental health condition during pregnancy or the year after they give birth.
And it’s not hard to see why.
Having a baby brings with it some major shifts that affect every fiber of your being.
Your physical body goes through huge changes, which can hugely impact your psychological well-being.
Added to this, you’re entering a whole new chapter of your life that can affect everything from your career to your relationships with others and yourself.
Yep, this is one serious transition.
And looking after your mental health as you go through it is vital.
First up, if you are struggling, there is help available.
Depending on where you are in the world, crisis lines like 988 (The Suicide and Crisis Helpline) are there to assist you 24 hours a day.
We’ve also put together this list of resources for various types of support across the globe.
Reaching out to your healthcare provider is also a good idea.
And if that feels like too much, start with your family, friends, or Peanut community.
With that in mind, let’s dive in.
We’ll take you through why your mental health matters in pregnancy and beyond, what can affect it, and what you can do to look after it.
In this guide: 📝
- Mental health during pregnancy
- Mental health as a new mother
Mental health during pregnancy
Let’s start with pregnancy.
Maintaining good mental health during pregnancy is fundamental.
It can put you in good stead for motherhood and helps keep you and baby happy and healthy.
But it is okay to not be okay, at any point in your life, for whatever reason (or no reason at all).
And help is available, it’s not a weakness to ask for it.
You’re worth it, mama.
Why is mental health important during pregnancy?
Your mental health is always important.
Like taking care of your physical body, it’s important to take care of your psychological well-being.
When you’re pregnant, this is extra important.
Nemours Children’s Health explains that mental health challenges can make it harder to take care of yourself and get the medical care you need.
And this can impact your health and the health of your baby.
Studies have also shown that people who have pre-existing mental health issues may experience more challenges during pregnancy.
So it’s really important to reach out if you’re struggling.
Can a mother’s mental health affect the baby?
The short answer is — yes, possibly, but these things are really complex and differ on a case-by-case basis.
Recent research has shown that depression and anxiety during and after pregnancy could affect a child’s development right into their teen years.
But rather than this being a reason to panic, it’s a reason to get help if you need it.
Having a mental illness does not mean you can’t have a healthy pregnancy and baby.
It does mean that you may have to take extra steps to ensure that you get the help and support you need.
If you’re on medication for common mental health illnesses like anxiety and depressive disorders, the really good news is that you don’t have to stop treatment when you get pregnant.
Dr. Lauren Osborne, assistant director of the Johns Hopkins Women’s Mood Disorders Center tells us that antidepressants don’t lead to birth differences.
And, in fact, living with an untreated mental illness poses more of a risk.
In fact, this recent study showed that women on medication for major depression who discontinued their medication during pregnancy are five times more likely to relapse than those who kept going with their treatment.
So the best thing to do is to navigate this with your doctor.
Together, you’ll figure out how to get the treatment you need while maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
Can pregnancy give you mental illness?
Pregnancy presents a unique situation when it comes to your mental health.
Along with positive emotions (bliss, elation, jump-out-of-your-seat excitement), you may be experiencing new stresses that you’ve never had before.
You might be concerned about motherhood and what it may do to your life, your health, and that of your baby, or simply confused about how one even does this whole thing.
This is all totally normal right now.
But it can contribute to feelings of overwhelm.
And this can understandably take its toll on your mental health.
Secondly, your hormones are doing all sorts of interesting things in your body.
These hormones have a role in our brain chemistry, which in turn has a role in regulating mood.
The surges and imbalances these hormones go through during pregnancy can lead to mental health disorders.
Your body is also engaged in this complex, beautiful task of growing a human.
And that requires an all-hands-on-deck approach.
Not only are you in a body that is evolving in ways that may feel foreign to you, but you may also be feeling pains in parts of it you didn’t know existed.
This intricate web of factors can all contribute to mental health challenges, both during pregnancy and beyond.
We’ll take you through some common experiences.
But it’s important to note that while this can be a useful guide to understanding what you might be feeling, it’s best to consult your doctor if you are struggling so that you can get an accurate diagnosis.
They’ll be able to advise you on how to treat your symptoms and take care of yourself according to your unique situation.
Anxiety during pregnancy
Feeling anxious is a perfectly natural bodily response.
Consider it your body’s warning light — telling you when it might be necessary to get out of danger or accomplish something you need to do.
And it’s totally normal to feel anxious during pregnancy.
If it’s your first pregnancy, you’re in new terrain here, which can be daunting to navigate.
And even if it’s not your first, you’ve never been pregnant with this baby before at this particular time.
But while some feelings of trepidation are common, sometimes the anxiety can start to feel debilitating.
You may constantly worry about whether your baby’s doing okay or how life is going to be as a mother.
You may also experience physical symptoms like shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, and a rapid heartbeat.
This can be a sign that you are struggling with an anxiety disorder.
Know that you’re not alone.
Somewhere between 8.5 and 10.5% of pregnant women have generalised anxiety disorder when they’re pregnant, and as many as 5.2% have panic disorders where they experience frequent panic attacks.
There is treatment available.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), one of the most effective means of treatment is talk therapy.
Support groups and making time to take care of yourself can both really help.
In more severe cases, you might be prescribed medication.
Antidepressants are commonly used to treat anxiety disorders as they are able to help regulate your brain chemistry.
There are various options on the table, so speak to your doctor about whether they’re suitable for you and what kind might be appropriate.
If you do take medication, it’s important to have follow-up appointments with your doctor both during and after your pregnancy so they can monitor your treatment.
Depression during pregnancy
While you may have heard more about postpartum depression, depression during pregnancy is also a very real experience that is more common than one might think — especially during the second and third trimesters.
Depression is not just feeling sad from time to time.
It’s a serious health condition that requires medical intervention.
Depression symptoms listed by the CDC include:
- Feeling sad, anxious, “empty” or hopeless
- Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
- Feeling irritable and restless
- Having no energy
- Serious brain fog where you struggle to remember things and make decisions
- Having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Overeating or eating too little
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Physical symptoms like aches and pains that don’t get better
Depression can worsen other pregnancy symptoms like insomnia and aches and pains, and it can rob you of the energy you need to deal with the normal physical and emotional challenges of pregnancy.
So again, it’s really important to get help.
Treatment in the form of talk therapy and medication is available.
Some complementary and alternative approaches are also being explored and are proving to be useful.
These include everything from bright light therapy to acupuncture to Omega-3’s to exercise.
The point is you don’t have to struggle through this alone.
Pregnancy after loss
Pregnancy following loss understandably comes with a range of mixed feelings.
While you might be brimming with excitement, you may also be feeling a complex blend of emotions, including grief for the baby you’ve lost and anxiety about being pregnant again.
Research shows that mental health challenges like depression and anxiety understandably follow pregnancy loss and may be even more prevalent when you get pregnant again.
Know that your experience is very real and valid.
Reach out to a healthcare professional to talk about how you’re feeling and look at treatment options.
You’re definitely not alone.
Tips for prioritising your mental health during pregnancy
We’ll say it again — if you are struggling with depression and/or anxiety symptoms, it’s important to get medical help.
This will usually be in the form of talk therapy or medication or both.
And regardless of where you’re at, there are measures that you can take to feel more connected and supported.
All pregnancy experiences are different.
We all have different physical and emotional challenges, different support structures, and different resources.
But looking after yourself is essential — not just while you’re pregnant but always.
Here are some tips you can start with:
Eat healthy food that you love
Of course, eating healthy food will help you get the nutrition you need to accomplish this awesome task.
But there’s more to it.
Sitting down to eat a delicious meal allows you to slow down and appreciate the sensory input of taste and smell.
If you’re finding it hard to sit down and enjoy a meal — maybe because of work responsibilities or other young children in the house — try to just find one opportunity in your day to sit down and refuel.
Maybe a hearty breakfast makes more sense for you than a leisurely dinner, or you can try eating an appetiser with your kids and then eating a more relaxed dinner after they’re in bed.
Get exercise you enjoy
Above all the physical benefits that exercise brings, studies have shown that exercise may help reduce and prevent depressive symptoms.
Head here for our tips on exercising while pregnant.
Prioritise your sleep
Okay, we know.
It’s also no secret that anxiety and sleep are not great bedfellows.
But do what you can to get some snooze time.
And if you want them, we’ve got some tried-and-true tips on how to sleep while pregnant.
Chronicle your experiences
It’s also a great way to create a written time capsule of this incredible chapter of your life.
Do things you love
You have full permission to take time out to do what you’re passionate about.
Drawing, reading, walking in nature — consider this your ticket to go do what you love.
And if that means you want to binge-watch your favorite series for the fourth time, also cool.
You do you.
Try pregnancy affirmations
There’s research showing that affirmations actually work!
Head here for an inspiring list to get you started.
Lean on your community
Tell your family and friends how you’re doing.
Join support groups.
Talk to others who might be going through similar things.
Knowing that you’re not alone can go a really long way.
And we know, taking the time you need between busy work and home schedules can be tough.
While it’s by no means a quick fix, check out our guide to advocating for yourself during pregnancy.
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Mental health as a new mother
Being a new mum comes with a very unique set of challenges and for many, it can be incredibly isolating.
Your relationships with friends and your partner can really change.
Plus, you may be navigating what’s not-so-affectionately known as mum guilt.
(You know, no matter how much you do and how often, it never feels enough? Yep, we know.)
(Psst. This is where Peanut comes in very handy — while everyone’s experiences are unique, there’s a whole community out there that can relate.)
Added to this, as was the case during pregnancy, you also have a host of hormones doing the rounds in your body that have a very real impact on your mental health.
They mainly have to do with hormones and the very real complexities of the transition to motherhood.
The good news is the baby blues usually go away within a week or two of your baby’s birth.
In some cases, those blues linger and get worse, turning into postpartum depression (PPD).
This is a serious disorder that affects your day-to-day function and typically lasts for longer than two weeks.
It manifests as extreme sadness and often has physical symptoms that accompany it.
PPD happens in about one in seven pregnancies.
PPD symptoms include:
- Extreme sadness and feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Losing interest in things you previously enjoyed
- Feeling really anxious
- Crying a lot
- Eating too much or too little
- Sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping at all
- Trouble concentrating
- Having little interest in your baby or feeling really anxious about having to take care of them
- Suicidal thoughts
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
Researchers believe that some people may be more sensitive to the hormone changes that come with the postpartum period, making them more susceptible to postpartum depression.
So if this is what you are going through, know that you certainly haven’t done anything wrong and that there is help available.
Other risk factors include:
- A lack of support from family or a partner
- Medical complications during your pregnancy or the time of birth
- Having mixed feelings about having a baby
- Stressful life events that happen during your pregnancy or around the time of your baby’s birth
- Problems with alcohol or drug abuse
If you have a personal and/or family history of depression, you may also be more at risk.
The question of how long postpartum depression lasts is not an easy one to answer.
While there’s research to suggest that many new mamas with PPD recover within three to six months, there’s simply no one-size-fits-all here.
Your journey is your journey.
It’s important to know that PPD can be dangerous for both you and your baby.
There is treatment available.
And if reaching out to your doctor feels like too much right now, talk to a friend, partner, family member, or someone in your Peanut community.
You can get better and begin to thrive as a mother.
You really are not alone in this.
Many of our Peanut mamas have suffered from postpartum depression — here’s one of their stories.
Linked to PPD is postpartum anxiety — severe feelings of fear and anxiousness after having or adopting a baby.
(PPA and PPD are separate conditions, but they often occur together. About 75% of those with postpartum anxiety have PPD too.)
If you’ve had an anxiety disorder prior to pregnancy, you may be even more at risk of developing extreme anxiety after giving birth.
Some things you may be anxious about are the health and well-being of your baby or about your role as a new mama.
You may have constant fears that your baby is in danger, for example, or that you won’t be able to cope with motherhood.
You may also experience physical symptoms, including shortness of breath, a rapid heartbeat, and dizziness.
For some people, this worry could be related to traumatic events from the past, while for others there is no obvious cause.
One particular form of PPA is postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), where you might experience ongoing intrusive thoughts related to your baby.
This can make you repeat the behavior to try and stave off these perceived threats, like constantly cleaning or checking that things are where they should be.
Anxiety is not only the domain of new mamas.
Mothers can experience anxiety at any time on their journey.
You might experience excessive worry when you return to work after having your baby, for example.
And as your child grows older, concern about their health, well-being, and safety may cause excessive worry.
Again, it’s really important to get help if you are struggling with anxiety.
There is treatment available in the form of medication and talk therapy.
And we’ll also give you some tips below for taking care of your mental health as a new mama.
Postpartum psychosis is an incredibly distressing condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Psychosis is when people perceive reality differently from those around them.
The main symptoms of postpartum psychosis are delusional behavior and seeing and hearing things that aren’t there.
Hyperactivity, extreme irritability, paranoia, and rapid mood swings can all be warning signs.
Postpartum psychosis is pretty rare, occurring in about 1 to 2 of every 1000 births, and usually happens within the first two weeks of delivery.
You’re more likely to develop postpartum psychosis if you have a personal or family history of bipolar disorder or previous psychotic episodes.
If you suspect you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum psychosis, get emergency help.
This condition can be incredibly dangerous to mum and baby.
Tips for prioritising your mental health as a new mother
First off, it’s not just you.
Mum burnout is a thing.
There are ways to heal mum burnout, though.
The first thing to do is get in touch with your healthcare provider if you are struggling.
It’s important to take your mental health seriously.
And then, make time to prioritise your own well-being.
Self-care is not only about bubble baths and manicures (though there can certainly be a time and place for those too!).
Sometimes it means making space for yourself to do the things you’re passionate about.
Art-making, journaling, catching up with a dear friend — all of these can help you feel connected.
Head here for our list of self-care tips for mothers.
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No matter where you are on your motherhood journey, you matter, and your experience matters.
It’s very easy to put yourself at the bottom of the priority pile.
One thing we cannot state enough is the value of connection.
We’re all about providing support for each other, before pregnancy, during, and beyond.
We wish you all the best.