Top 10 tips for mums: Perinatal mental health
As part of BBC Radio 5 live's #mumtakeover - the UK's biggest conversation about motherhood and mental health - one of our supporters, Maternal Mental Health Alliance, share their top tips for looking after your mental health before and after pregnancy.
1) Be realistic
Many of us have visions of what motherhood might be like, perpetuated by images in the media and social media. Try not to put pressure on yourself by building up unrealistic ideals of the birth you’ll have; the activities you’ll do with your baby, or the mother you’ll be. Be prepared to be led by what you and your baby need, rather than a pre-existing plan.
You have produced a human being. That’s amazing. Looking after a baby is hard, so take it easy on yourself. Being ‘good enough’ is just fine!
2) Understand more about mental health and mental illness
In your preparations for becoming a mum, it can be useful to read more about the risk factors for mental illness and the signs of being unwell. This can help you to understand if and when you might need more help. It’s really valuable to share this information with your partner too, so that they can support you.
There is a lot of useful information online, such as this fact sheet.
3) Plan and prepare
While you are pregnant, you can plan how you can look after your emotional wellbeing when baby arrives, and what you might do if you’re struggling. Tools like the Emotional Wellbeing plan can help with this.
If you have a history of serious mental illness, health professionals like your midwife and mental health team can plan with you how to manage your illness through pregnancy, birth and parenthood.
Activities like preparing meals to freeze and looking into local activities and groups in advance, can help to make things easier when baby arrives.
4) Look after yourself
Self-care is important for new mums. Rest, gentle exercise, eating a healthy diet and taking time to relax are all important, even though they aren’t always easy to do. You may need to plan with family and friends and find ways for them to help you.
It can feel impossible to get enough rest when you have a new baby. They wake regularly for feeds at night, and you may feel that you need to use their naptimes to ‘get stuff done’. But sleep deprivation is bad for our emotional wellbeing and can be a trigger for mental health problems, so it is important to try and catch up when you can. This might involve asking for help, or just accepting that you won’t get all your household chores done for a while.
5) Find social support
It can feel isolating to be a new mum and you may find it difficult to keep in touch with your old friends. Social support is good for our wellbeing. Attending antenatal classes, coffee morning and baby groups, and using social media, can help you to connect to other local mums and create new social networks.
6) Talk to someone
If you 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 or national helpline.
Your midwife, health visitor and GP should ask you about how you are feeling at your check-ups. If you are finding things tough, be honest with them. It is not uncommon to feel unwell and there is nothing to be ashamed off. You won’t be judged if you tell someone, and it will be an important first step in getting any help you need.
7) Don’t feel bad about feeling bad
People will tell you to ‘enjoy every minute’ of being a new mum. You won’t. This is normal. All new mums will have low points and bad days, and at least 20% of new mums will experience a mental health problem. It is OK to not feel OK. You aren’t alone. It doesn’t make you a bad mum.
8) Get help
There are many forms of support and treatment available for mental health problems. If recognised and treated properly, you should be able to make a full recovery from your illness.
If you think you have a mental health problem, then contact your health visitor, GP or – if you have a pre-existing mental health problem – your mental health team. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can get treatment and the faster you should recover. Alongside talking to your local health professionals, you can also seek support from local support groups, national helplines and online support.
9) Get the help that’s right for you.
Every woman is different, and every woman’s experience of mental illness will be different. Help is available in a range of different forms including self-help advice, talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and antidepressant medication. There is no ‘one size fits all’ cure.
It would be wonderful if every woman got the right support at the right time, but sadly this doesn’t always happen. It can be helpful for you and your partner to do some research about the options available so that you can discuss these with your health professional. If you don’t feel you are getting the help you need, speak up and be persistent!
10) Talk about it
If you feel comfortable to do so, it is valuable to talk about any struggles you had a new mum.
This can help to normalise mental illness, tackle stigma and enable other mothers to speak out. Check out these links to local peer support groups or national helplines here.