The Mental Health of a woman who is pregnant or who has given birth is as important as her physical health, and must be a priority because of its impact on both mother and baby.
What are Mental Health Problems?
Mental Health problems refer to a wide range of conditions that affect a person’s mood, thinking, and behavior. Examples include depression, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, eating disorders and addictive behavior.
The combination of physical, social and emotional changes in pregnancy may, for some, lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Mental health issues are treatable and with the right support most people will recover. Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health problems during pregnancy, with around 12% of women experiencing depression and 13% experiencing anxiety at some point; many women will experience both. Depression and anxiety also affect 15‑20% of women in the first year after childbirth.
Women are encouraged to be empowered and to seek help if they have a problem. It is also important for family members to reach out for help if they suspect that a relative who is pregnant or has just given birth is having difficulty coping with pregnancy or the baby.
The Myths and Facts about Mental Health in Pregnancy
A survey was done by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2016 to determine why women are reluctant to speak to their doctor or midwife about mental health issues. The findings from this study include:
- Forty percent (40%) of women are afraid that their mental health problems would be noted on their medical records.
FACT: There is no need to fear. Having mental health problems does not mean that you are weak or bad. There is benefit for both you and your baby if your doctor or midwife is made aware of any concerns that you have. Speaking to your health care provider will enable early referral for you to get professional help.
- Thirty two percent (32%) of women did not realize their doctor or midwife can help.
FACT: All healthcare professionals know the importance of your mental health. They can offer you advice and counsel. You can be referred for specialist help if the need arises.
- Twenty eight percent (28%) of women felt there was a stigma attached to mental health problems.
FACT: Although it may be difficult to speak about your mental health problems, your doctor/ midwife knows how important this is and will help you in a sensitive and caring manner.
- Twenty eight percent (28%) of women felt embarrassed to speak about their problem.
FACT: You may feel embarrassed at first, but your doctor or midwife will not judge you. They all know it is a common problem and they want to help you.
- Twenty seven percent (27%) of women thought it is normal to experience these problems in pregnancy.
FACT: All pregnant women feel anxious or “low” sometimes. If you find that it is happening too often, seek help early.
- Twenty three percent (23%) of women were unsure about what is going on.
FACT: Knowing what is wrong when you feel mentally unwell may be difficult. Your doctor or midwife is trained to help you. If you feel uncomfortable speaking to one member of your team, discuss your problem with any staff member with whom you are comfortable. They all want to help you to have an enjoyable and successful pregnancy.
10 Ways to Boost Your Mental Health during Pregnancy
- Try Prenatal Yoga- Once your doctor gives you the clearance to start prenatal yoga, you may find a regular practice with a more meditative or relaxation-focused approach has a positive impact on your mood. Bonus: Prenatal yoga has also been shown to be beneficial in many cases for improving sleep and anxiety.
- Practice Positive Self Talk- Pregnancy can be hard at times, but talking yourself through it by using kind words (“You’ve got this, Mama!”) can be so powerful and help to shift your mindset. Tip: Sometimes the best way to start this practice is by writing a few positive affirmations on sticky notes, putting them on a wall and just reading them aloud.
- Consider Therapy- Talk therapy is a powerful tool to help maintain your mood during pregnancy. It helps create a safe, confidential space where you can process any emotions you have about your shifting identity, changing body or other concerns.
- Embrace Body Positivity- Gaining weight, developing stretch marks and feeling less energetic are normal and healthy changes that typically occur during pregnancy, but some women struggle when they see these changes in the mirror. Pregnant moms can choose their words about their bodies carefully and even practice saying them out loud. For example, saying: “My body feels strong. My body is amazing for housing this little human. I am beautiful just as I am,” can be an exercise in self-compassion and body-positivity. If that feels too difficult, sometimes saying a simple “thank you” to our bodies can be just as powerful.
- Stay Connected- Our relationships with friends and family are essential to helping us feel supported and maintaining a sense of identity and normalcy during the transition into motherhood. Studies have shown that strong social support during pregnancy is protective against postpartum depression.
- Check in With Your Partner Regularly- Checking in with your partner and allowing yourself to have open, honest conversations about how you’re adjusting is important in helping both of you manage your emotions. It could also help create a deeper level of closeness and connection through this transition.
- Get Physical Exercise- Getting some exercise will generally help elevate your mood, protect against depression and instill a greater sense of overall well-being.
- Take Your Prenatal Vitamin- Data shows that consistently taking folic acid even prior to conception (and, of course, during pregnancy) can be protective of your mood. The good news is that folic acid is typically found in most prenatal vitamins anyway, because it’s known to protect baby’s healthy development. Other important vitamins frequently found within your prenatal vitamin that may support your mood and energy levels while protecting baby’s development include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and iron.
- Get some rest- Adequate sleep and feeling well rested are key to a healthy mood, pregnant moms should get rest when they can, even if they have to squeeze in the occasional daytime nap.
- Consider medication if needed- Together, you and your doctor may determine that there is a medical need to start or continue taking antidepressants during pregnancy.
Ministry of Health, Mental Health unit (285-9126, ext. 2577, 2571, 2573, 2590)
St Anns Hospital (624-1151-4, [email protected])
Maternity department, POSGH
The Take-Home Message
- You are not alone; you have the support of your doctor or midwife.
- The earlier you speak to someone, the better it is for you and your baby.
- Many women all over the world have some form of fear and anxiety about discussing mental health issues, but your healthcare provider is there for you.
- Your mental health does not define you. It does not mean you’re weak, bad or incompetent if you have mental health issues.
- If you do not seek help, you risk harming yourself and your baby.
- DO NOT suffer in silence; there are trained professionals who are willing and keen to help you.
- Kylander, C. by K. (2020, July 13). How maternal mental health impacts A child: Goodtherapy. GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/maternal-mental-health-impacts
- Maternal mental health – women’s voices. RCOG. (n.d.). Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.rcog.org.uk/for-the-public/rcog-engagement-listening-to-patients/maternal-mental-health-womens-voices/
- Maternal Mental Health Alliance. (2022, May 10). Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://maternalmentalhealthalliance.org/
- Maternal mental health. Health Department. (n.d.). Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://oklahoma.gov/health/family-health/improving-infant-outcomes/maternal-mental-health.html