At Fertility Family we often talk about the mental health challenges that men and women can encounter when facing fertility problems. It’s clear that this is a widespread phenomenon, for over 90% of people with fertility issues in the UK experiencing depression symptoms of some kind. But it’s important not to overlook the fact that pregnancy carries its own set of mental health risks, too – and being fully aware of these, and of how to tackle them, will equip you to embark on the journey of trying to start a family.
It’s normal to feel emotionally different to usual during pregnancy, but sometimes your feelings indicate something more serious, such as antenatal depression. This is when you feel constantly sad for an extended period of time during your pregnancy. It is important to seek professional help if you think you are experiencing antenatal depression – midwives and doctors understand that depression is a mental health condition and will not judge you.
Becoming pregnant represents a truly extraordinary change to your body in virtually every sense. Hormones circulate at a high level. Because of this, the alterations it causes extend far beyond the womb – it can affect many of the functions that we take for granted day-to-day, and can offset the natural rhythms of your body that you have grown used to over the years. This applies to both your physical and mental health, and so it inevitably takes some time to get used to these changes.
Experiencing worries during pregnancy
When going through pregnancy, it is completely normal to experience the kind of intense worries that seem to dominate your thoughts and may affect your quality of sleep. Not only are you going through major changes in your body, but you are about to experience one of life’s biggest upheavals – especially if you are having a child for the first time.
Becoming a parent brings with it huge responsibility, so you may find that you worry about how you’ll cope and whether you’ll be able to provide everything your child needs as a parent. It’s important not to expect too much of yourself – to allow for imperfections and understand that the journey of parenting is a learning experience at every step.
In addition, it’s normal to feel anxiety about the process of labour and giving birth itself, or about how you will bond with your baby. It can be very helpful to speak to people around you, either family or friends, who have been through it and can therefore reassure you and help you understand what to expect.
Whatever the root of your pregnancy worries, make sure you are completely open with people you trust about how you are feeling – whether that’s your partner, your close friends or members of your family. Opening up about these things can make you feel that your concerns are shared and understood, and reinforces the sense that other people have been where you are. Fortunately, during pregnancy you will have many opportunities to discuss your worries with a professional, as antenatal appointments with your midwife generally include both physical and mental health checks.
How to maintain your mental health during pregnancy
There are a number of positive steps you can take in order to ensure you stay well and positive when you are pregnant. Ensuring you factor these into your daily life will benefit your baby in the long run, too.
- Make sure your partner or someone else you trust is closely involved in the pregnancy – share as much as you can about what you’re going through both physically and mentally, in order not to feel like you’re alone.
- Seek professional help from your midwife or doctor if you think you are suffering from a mental health condition such as antenatal depression. These professionals can help identify potential problems, preferred treatment and care options to help you feel better.
- Give yourself enough time to rest and relax – you might need more than usual.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for physical help when you need it, with things like carrying shopping and household chores.
- Give yourself something to look forward to each day by maintaining a social life as much as you can.
- Avoid stressful situations and cut down on other commitments while you’re pregnant – this will help you not to feel overwhelmed by what you’re going through.
- Maintain a gentle exercise routine but don’t take part in intense or strenuous activities.
- Eat a balanced and healthy diet and don’t feel the need to “eat for two”. Fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates and proteins are especially important.
Useful links for mental health support during pregnancy
NHS Mental Health in Pregnancy Overview: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/mental-health/
Tommy’s, charity that funds pregnancy research, has detailed information on depression and pregnancy: https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/im-pregnant/mental-wellbeing/depression-pregnancy
Mental health charity, Mind, resource on perinatal mental health: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/postnatal-depression-and-perinatal-mental-health/
National Childbirth Trust provide practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy: https://www.nct.org.uk/pregnancy/how-you-might-be-feeling/antenatal-or-prenatal-depression-signs-symptoms-and-support