Maternal Mental Health: A guide for new mothers
Becoming a mother is an extraordinary experience. It can bring immense joy, excitement, and fulfilment. So, at a time when everyone around you expects you to be floating on cloud nine it can be confusing when you actually feel overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed out. It’s very normal to feel a mixed bag of emotions in the early days of motherhood, but when it extends beyond this it might be time to think about your maternal mental health.
The term ‘maternal mental health’ refers to the emotional well-being of mothers during pregnancy and after childbirth. It is a time when you are faced with so many new challenges, all served with a side of sleep deprivation. So, what could be going on and how can you prioritise your mental health?
The Challenges of Motherhood
Motherhood brings with it a whole new set of challenges that can be difficult to navigate;
- Sleep Deprivation: Newborns require around-the-clock care, which can leave new mothers feeling exhausted and sleep-deprived.
- Hormonal Changes: Hormonal changes during pregnancy and after childbirth can cause mood swings, anxiety, and depression.
- Lack of Support: Many new mothers feel isolated and unsupported, especially if they don't have family or friends nearby.
- Body Image Issues: Pregnancy and childbirth can cause changes in a woman's body that can be difficult to accept.
- Pressure to be a Perfect Mother: New mothers may feel pressure to be perfect, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and stress.
Prioritising Maternal Mental Health
Noticing your feelings and taking small steps to care for your mental health can make a huge difference. Here are some tips for taking care of yourself:
- Get Enough Sleep: No easy task with a newborn (and perhaps other children to care for too!) but sleep deprivation can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression. Try to get as much sleep as possible, even if it means napping during the day while a friend or family member watches the baby.
- Seek Support: Just telling your partner, friend, sister – can help the people around you know you need support. There is no shame in asking for help, whether you are a first or even fourth time mother! Caring for a family is hard and you don’t need to do it alone.
- Practice Self-Care: It may feel impossible, but by taking even ‘mini moments’ to do something for yourself can start to make you feel more like you again. Making a nourishing meal, a bit of skincare, reading a few pages of a book or taking a walk can all help.
- Exercise: Exercise is an excellent way to boost your mood and relieve stress. Even on the most sleep deprived days, a walk with baby (even better, with other mums) can energise you and improve your mood.
- Accept Help: Newsflash, people really do want to help out. No one would want to think you were struggling because you didn’t want to bother them. So just ask! Whether it's cooking a meal, doing the laundry, or watching the baby while you take a hot shower, every little bit helps.
- Be Kind to Yourself: Growing, birthing and caring for a baby is not easy. You are undoubtedly doing a great job so be gentle on yourself.
When to Seek Professional Help
While it's normal to experience some ups and downs during the postpartum period, some mothers may develop more serious mental health issues, such as postpartum depression or anxiety. If you're experiencing any of the following symptoms, it's important to seek professional help:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or despair
- Intense anxiety or panic attacks
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible. They can help you get the support and treatment you need.
If you are worried about your mental health or about someone you know you can contact one of the charities below for help and advice;
- Samaritans – 116 123 (24 hrs a day)
- Mind – 0300 123 3393 (9am – 6pm Mon-Fri)
- Pandas PND awareness and support - 0808 1961 776 (11am-10pm daily) and WhatsApp 07903508334 (8am-10pm daily)