Pregnancy and birth bring with them substantial changes. Whilst it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times, episodes of sadness and helplessness should not be taken lightly. Mental health and wellbeing during pregnancy and after are as important as your physical health.
There are ways to help you take care of your mental health during pregnancy and as new parents. We’ve asked experts and parents to share tips on how to ensure optimal mental health and well-being.
Dr. Pritham Raj: “Get plenty of sleep, make sure to carve out time for dates to preserve the romance between partners, and maintain a physical activity regimen (notice I didn’t say exercise, just walk 30 minutes a day).”
Julia Rohan: “Now that my son Archie is headed towards his third birthday, I feel passionate about this topic. I think my most important advice: instead of asking how she is, or what she needs, or how you can help (which are all very well-meaning questions but cause new moms even greater anxiety) bring a meal, tell her to shower while you hold the baby, gift her a massage and stay with baby, do her dishes, take baby for a walk while she naps. New moms need less questions and more help offered. Checking in on a new mom is everything.”
Bina Bird, MA, LMFT: “Tips to care for mental well-being during the pregnancy include being sure to get enough sleep, eat regular meals and do some form of physical activity (following Doctor recommendations). Physical activity can be simple and even just going for a short walk. Also reaching out and utilizing your support system can help for both emotional and practical support. The old saying that it takes a village really is true! Allowing friends and family members to help in preparing for the baby by preparing meals, planning to come over and help give you breaks, can all help give you the support you need. Making these plans before baby comes is very helpful in reducing anxiety about what life will be like when baby comes, and many therapists will work with moms-to-be to create this postpartum plan. Also making sure you have realistic expectations of what life with
a newborn will be like. Pinterest and Social Media can make it look like it is all unicorns and rainbows, but in reality it can be a very difficult time as you adjust to lack of sleep and meeting the needs of someone else 24/7. Communicating with your healthcare provider is critical as well. They want to hear not just about your physical concerns, but also your mental health. They can help refer you to a therapist that specializes in Perinatal Mental Health if needed. And finally, don’t be afraid to reach out directly to a local therapist in your area if you need support during your pregnancy. Even a few sessions can be helpful as you prepare to transition to the role of motherhood and all that it entails. It can be a very exciting time for new parents, but it can also be very overwhelming. It is ok to have all the emotions and thoughts that come with this, but important to be able to express these and get support.”
“It can be a very exciting time for new parents, but it can also be very overwhelming. It is ok to have all the emotions and thoughts that come with this, but important to be able to express these and get support.” Bina Bird, MA, LMFT
Dr. Nicole Washington: “Parents-to-be should be mindful of what they are experiencing and take any mood symptoms seriously. It is important to talk to your OB about any mood issues during pregnancy. Two major tips for the postpartum period include sleeping when baby sleeps whenever possible and allowing partner and primary support group to help. Sometimes, new moms feel it is important to prove that they can handle everything and won’t reach out. This is a recipe for disaster. Even allowing your partner to get up a couple of nights with baby while you get a little extra sleep can go a long way. “
Crystal Clancy, MA, LMFT: “Ask for help. Our culture tells us that we should adjust to parenting as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. But it is HARD, even if there are no mental health or medical complications. If you are struggling, ask for help. Have someone take care of the baby so you can take a nap, a shower, or a walk. When people ask if they can do anything, say yes! Even if it is to bring you lunch or a coffee, or for some adult interaction. During pregnancy, make a list of who you can trust if there are issues postpartum. It can be so great to know you have people, and harder to think about those people when you are having a tough time. Basic self-care can go a long way – so sleep, eat and drink lots of water. Rest, instead of worrying about cleaning the house. And let your partner be involved. Many times, they feel left out of the newborn process.”
“During pregnancy, make a list of who you can trust if there are issues postpartum. It can be so great to know you have people, and harder to think about those people when you are having a tough time.” Crystal Clancy, MA, LMFT
Carol Lourie: I think being aware that this time, although joyful, has new stressors that accompany it is one of the first steps. Here are some of the things I discuss with patients:
– Put self-care and sleep first, when the baby sleeps, the mom/parent should sleep.
– Make sure you are getting enough nutrition- stay hydrated, eat regular meals filled with fresh vegetables and protein.
– Ask for support from family and friends during the first month after the baby is born. Even if you think, ‘I’ll be fine’, there is no such thing as too much support.
– Lower your expectations of what you can and will accomplish during the day. This is a time to slow down and not push yourself to multitask in the same way you were able prior to having a baby.
Dr. Pritham Raj is Associate Professor at Oregon Health and Science University, Medical Director at Adventist Health Portland, and a father of three.
Carol Lourie is a naturopath, acupuncturist, homeopath and Functional Medicine expert, specializing in Women’s Health and has been practicing for over 30 years in Berkeley, CA.
Crystal Clancy, MA, LMFT is a perinatal health expert, as well as Executive Director of Community Engagement for Pregnancy and Postpartum Support MN, and Coordinator for the State Chapter of Postpartum Support International.
Dr. Nicole Washington is a board-certified psychiatrist. She is a practicing physician, adjunct faculty member at Oklahoma State University.
Bina Bird, MA, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in Perinatal Mental Health, in Texas.
Julia Rohan’s input is based on her experience of severe depression and anxiety following the birth of her son.