7 things every parent should know about maternal mental health

7 things every parent should know about maternal mental health

Here, Netmums' official midwife, Marie Louise, reveals what to look out for and when to get help when it comes to new parents' maternal mental health.

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Whether you're expecting a baby or have recently had one, all eyes will be on your bump, your baby and you'll certainly be well aware of the physical changes to your body.

But pregnancy and parenthood takes its toll on your mental health and wellbeing, too.

Here's what Netmums' midwife and new parent herself, Marie-Louise wants all parents-to-be and new parents to know about their own maternal mental health.

During pregnancy and the postnatal period, you'll have significant hormonal fluctuations causing you to feel a wide range fo emotions. During pregnancy your brain also changes and fine tunes to help you bond with your baby.

The effects of this can mean feeling real ups and downs. These are perfectly normal but if you (or your partner) have any concerns at all please do talk to someone you trust – your midwife, GP or Health Visitor can be great for sign posting or referring you to specialists.

The Netmums Drop-in Clinic also has qualified health visitors and Parent Supporters ready to assist new parents so do drop in at any time.

The sense of responsibility during pregnancy and early motherhood can be overwhelming to the point that you do not feel ‘up to the job’ or miss your old life.

This isn't uncommon and often women don't feel able to talk about their real feelings.

Some women worry they'll be judged or that their baby may even be ‘taken away’ if they are honest - know that this is extremely rare and even when women are seriously unwell (and perceived to be a possible danger to themselves) specialists on mother and baby units do their best to keep women and their babies together.

That is always the aim, so it’s okay to be honest about all of your thoughts, both the harmless and passing ‘I miss my old life’ to depressive or suicidal thoughts.

Healthcare professionals are there to help so please use them.

There is a new government initiative that started in April 2021 – it’s called ‘The Best Start For Life – A Vision For The 1001 Critical Days’.

Chaired by Andrea Leadsom MP, this vision has produced a publication which was developed with input from families, professionals and academics. Look out for Maternal Mental Health support hubs in your community and within our forum. The hubs also cover help and support for bereaved parents.

Postnatal depression affects around 10-15% of women and is different to ‘baby blues’ which affects up to 80% of women.

A few days post birth, it is normal to become tearful or feel a bit down. This has been recognised for millennia and it became known as the ‘Baby Blues’.

Postnatal depression (PND) is more serious and whilst it can be mild, it can also be severe. The sooner you seek support, the sooner you should start feeling better and be on the road to recovery.

If you suspect you have more than the baby blues, or no one someone else suffering, talk to someone, your GP, health visitor, as soon as you can.

Sometimes, you feel you have a handle on this new parenting stuff. Then in a moment, that feeling can come crashing down and leave you feeling defeated.

It’s totally normal and everyone experiences these highs and lows - no parent ever has a handle on everything all of the time. Nor is anyone 100% right 100% of the time.

You will make mistakes, you’ll learn on the job but part of looking after your mental health is learning how to be kind to yourself, to forgive yourself and know that your best really is enough. You got this! 

Lack of sleep or broken sleep can impact your mood, your behaviour, your whole outlook on being a parent even.

Be prepared to tackle the lack of sleep by warning friends or family that you may need to cancel last minute if you’ve not slept or may need to take a nap while they visit.

Eating proper meals is crucial so ask visitors to pick up lunch or prep and freeze meals on mat leave. Sleep deprivation can lead you to grab sugary snacks causing blood sugar spikes and drops and that'll make you feel worse in the long run.

Also looking at your own expectations can help, newborns aren’t designed to sleep for much longer than a few hours at a time. So even if you hear about your friends, friends baby that slept through the night from 3 weeks - remember that is not the norm and you’re not doing anything wrong. It is the way tiny humans are designed.

You may get lucky and have a good sleeper or you may be with the majority of parents that struggle with sleep in some way. Rest when you can, ask for help and give yourself permission to cancel if you need to.

Your physical health and mental health go hand-in-hand, so remember to take care of yourself as a parent.

Simply getting out for a short walk can support good mental health. Many studies have show how being in nature impacts your emotional well-being and connects you to nature, helping you feel connected.

Also, self care is not selfish and the kind of self-care I am referring to isn’t a rose-petaled bath, it is the real basic stuff new mums often dismiss.

Like noticing your needs, reporting pain to a healthcare professional, being honest with yourself about how you feel and what you need.

Just pressing on and pushing yourself can have a negative impact your mental health and it’s not sustainable. By looking after yourself you are looking after your baby, and in order to be the best version of yourself you also need to address your needs.

Of course, a rose-petal bath is nice as well!

Are you a first-time parent? Join your due-date club in our forum below to talk to other parents-to-be about all things pregnancy and birth-related ...

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