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Supporting mothers with maternal mental health

To mark Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, Shout Clinician Laura shares some tips for how you can look after your mental wellbeing during pregnancy and beyond. This year’s theme is ‘Journey to Recovery’ and we’ve highlighted some of the steps mums can take to support their mental wellbeing during this time.

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Tips to support mums with their mental wellbeing

Each woman’s journey into pregnancy will be different. Sometimes we hear people refer to the ‘baby blues’, which describes that time following delivery, when women may experience a period of mild depression. However, research shows that 1 in 5 women will develop a mental health issue during pregnancy or the year following.

With all the changes going on, it may sometimes feel as though your body is not the one you have been used to for so long. Morning (or all day!) sickness, fatigue, changes in hormones; all of these things can contribute to a sense that we are not in control of our bodies. This can really impact our sense of self. Whilst it is normal to experience these feelings, if they persist it may be a sign of something a little more serious.

  • Practice mindfulness

Research from 2017 showed that mindfulness practiced during pregnancy had beneficial impacts on the management of anxiety, stress, and depression.

Mindfulness is about connecting with the present. Paying close attention to your thoughts and feelings, and what is going on around you, is shown to bring valuable moments of calm. There is a wealth of information regarding mindfulness available online, and it may be about researching some accessible exercises to try. One that we suggest is a grounding exercise, known as 5-4-3-2-1. In those moments of stress and anxiety, try to centre yourself by sitting calmly, and naming 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and finally one thing that you like about yourself.

  • Healthy Sleep

Pregnancy and the first year will have a significant impact on a woman’s energy levels. Fatigue is often experienced through the first trimester, reappearing in the third. The sleepless nights when the baby arrives, all of these things will have a serious effect on sleep patterns. It is widely recognised that healthy sleep is important for our mental health.

Some things that can ensure good sleep hygiene during this time are; ensuring that your bedtime routine does not include electronic devices, don’t check your phone before you intend to fall asleep. Make sure that you are not watching TV in bed. The bright screens we interact with on a daily basis have a blue light that hampers the production of melatonin, the hormone we need to enjoy a healthy sleep.

  • Try some exercise

Studies have shown that exercising even just once a week can have a marked impact on mental health in pregnant women. Depression experienced during pregnancy and afterwards can make it difficult to feel motivated. The capacity and time available to exercise can be small during pregnancy and the first year - however it is important to carve out time for exercise, in order to maintain both your physical and mental health.

Low intensity exercise such as walking and yoga have been shown to produce great results in fighting depression in pregnant women. These two activities are largely accessible, no equipment necessary and can be practiced alone or with others. Try starting off slow, a 30 minute session of yoga, or a 45 minute walk.

  • The importance of community

Social support which encompasses emotional support and informational support, has an incredibly positive affect during childbirth and postpartum.

Pregnancy can sometimes feel like an isolating time - whilst lots has been written and shared about experiences of pregnancy and ‘what to expect’, each mother will have a unique experience. We may compare ourselves to others, or feel overwhelmed by the wealth of information out there. It is important to recognise that whatever your circumstances, there is support available.

Studies have shown that accessing prenatal classes can decrease the risk of complications during labour, and improve mental health postpartum. The impact of the pandemic has meant that lots of these classes have moved online. NHS antenatal classes are free, and available through your GP or midwife. They will cover topics such as making a birth plan, what happens during labour and caring for your baby. It will also give you a chance to connect with other pregnant women and their partners.

  • Accessing mental health support

In this blog we have covered some accessible ways to manage and prevent poor mental health during pregnancy and postpartum. However, as reflected in the introduction, 1 in 5 women will develop a significant mental health issue during this time. If you feel that you are struggling, it is crucial to access professional support. It can be easy to dismiss low moods and lingering feelings as part of being pregnant, or a new parent. However these feelings may speak to more serious issues, which can be easily treatable with the right support and action.

Visiting a GP or midwife to talk about mental health can feel scary. Remember that these feelings are very common; try to be as open and honest about your feelings as possible - they are there to support you. Options for treatment may include talking therapies or medication - both of which your GP will be able to fully advise you on.

Speaking out can feel like a hurdle in itself. Try sharing your thoughts with those around you - your partner, friends, family. Communicating these feelings can be the first step towards positive mental health. If you are experiencing any of the issues highlighted in this blog, text SHOUT to 85258 for support.

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