Mind

Mental health self-care for pregnancy and new parents

Discover how you can care for your mental health while pregnant or caring for your new baby

Although it’s portrayed as one of the happiest times, it’s actually common for parents to experience perinatal mental ill health. This refers to mental health problems that occur any time from becoming pregnant to a year and longer after giving birth. In a survey by Benenden Health, 3 in 10 parents said they had experienced perinatal mental health issues. Here we share self-care techniques that you can use to look after yourself.

Having a baby is a huge life event and can trigger a wide range of perinatal mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, psychosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you or your partner experience these or any other mental health difficulties at any time, talk to your doctor, midwife, health visitor or post-NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) nurse.

There are other things you can be doing while waiting for professional support and many people find these self-care techniques make a big difference to how they’re feeling…

5 ways to look after your mental health during pregnancy

You're going through a lot of physical changes, but don't forget about your mental health.

1. Have early nights

Throughout pregnancy your energy ebbs and flows, so if you’re feeling really tired, give in and enjoy an early night. If you can’t sleep, try to relax with a book rather than TV or your phone as these can overstimulate you and make it harder to nod off.

2. Make time for you and your partner

This is a time of change for your partner as well, so make time to share with each other how you’re both feeling and enjoy doing the things you love together

3. Take it easy

Your body is going through a lot of physical and hormonal changes right now, so if people offer you help, take it!

4. Exercise gently

If you’re feeling up to it, a walk in the park, yoga, swimming, and Pilates are all good ways to relieve mental stress and improve your mood

5. Talk to friends, family or support groups

It’s OK to not feel excited or happy that you or your partner are pregnant and sharing how you’re feeling is often the first step to improving your mental health. It can be easier to talk to someone outside of your family and friends so there are lots of support groups offering online, phone and face-to-face support (when available) such as PANDAS

Looking after your mental health with a new baby

Whether you’ve been mentally well during pregnancy or not, life with a baby can impact on your mental health too. Many new parents feel tired, emotional and overwhelmed by the number of new things to learn. It can be a scary time with lots of new pressures that can change relationships and amplify any existing mental health illnesses.

Many parents experience what’s commonly called ‘the baby blues’ about three to ten days after birth. It’s characterised as low mood, feeling emotional and tearful but normally passes after a few days.

However, as parenthood isn't a short-term life event, mental ill health can be much longer lasting. There may be added struggles with breastfeeding and unexpected complications such as a premature birth, traumatic labour, or an ill mum or baby.

There are lots of self-care techniques (some of which are listed below) you can try to alleviate the symptoms and help you and your partner cope, but if you find your symptoms getting worse, you can talk to your doctor, midwife, health visitor, post-NICU group or call your Benenden Health 24/7 Mental Health Helpline.

12 ways for new parents to take care of their mental health

Making some time for your mental health is crucial...

1. Accept help with daily tasks

Everyday tasks like having a shower or cooking when you have a baby can feel impossible so if someone offers to cook or to come round and look after baby while you do the washing up, say yes! Let go of those daily tasks that aren’t essential.

2. Do what you can, when you can

Now your focus is on the little one, it’s only natural that daily tasks will slip. Ask yourself what really matters and try not to get frustrated when you can’t achieve everything. Try taking bursts of time here and there to do the things that really have to be done. You can achieve a lot in 20 minutes, and you’ll feel much better for it. With the first weeks of parenthood under your belt, it’s good for your mood to get dressed and freshen up every day (even if a shower is impossible)

3. Talk to your partner, family, and friends about your feelings

Mental health problems are common in parents so if you’re not feeling yourself, talk to family and friends you trust who are parents - chances are they might have felt something similar. Keep talking to your partner too as they can only support you if they know you’re struggling

4. Contact support organisations

Talking to someone who has felt the same can often be the best medicine. There are support options for parents with premature or sick babies such as local support groups (when available) and phone helplines from PANDAS or Bliss and online communities such as Netmums Forums and NCT.

However, don’t forget that even if everything went ‘right’ with your birth and your baby is healthy, you may still be struggling with your perinatal mental health. You can reach out to PANDAS.

5. Go to parent and baby groups

Whether it’s mummy exercise classes in the park (when available) or baby sign language online, these groups are a vital lifeline for many parents to break up their days and to share their experiences with other parents

6. Exercise or get outside

Mums’ physical health will have changed during pregnancy so a walk with the pram every day not only helps strengthen your muscles (especially your pelvic floor) but also has a positive impact on your mood

7. Rest when you can

When baby sleeps it’s tempting to take the opportunity to get things done but make sure you remember to rest too. Even fifteen minutes a day sitting down will improve your mental health, consider downloading a mindfulness app using this whilst resting can improve mood, decrease anxiety, and establish a positive mental wellbeing routine.

8. Do something for you

If it’s possible, ask your partner to look after baby even for half an hour a day so you can do something for yourself. Whether you read a book, watch TV or call a friend, just doing something for you will make you feel refreshed

9. Eat well and drink water

You may be trying to regain your pre-baby weight but rather than less food, now is the time for healthy meals that will give you the energy and nutrition your body needs. If you’re breastfeeding, the NHS recommends you drink plenty of water and keep caffeine down to a minimum

10. Notice your mood

You may not have time to write a diary but keep a note (in your phone or in your head) of how you are feeling - can you see patterns in what makes things better or worse? There may be topics of conversation, places, or habits (like having caffeine or alcohol) that aren’t doing you good at the moment

11. Use the internet wisely

When you have worries about you or your baby, trusted websites and apps are a great way to put your mind at rest or give you helpful tips, but social media images and stories portraying the perfect mother and baby moments, ‘over-sharenting’ or telling worse-case scenario stories will make any new parent feel inadequate or scared. Follow people you trust to be honest or unfollow the ones that make you feel anything but happy.

12. Be kind to yourself

One thing you can’t prepare for is how much being a new parent will change your focus and your use of time, so try to talk kindly to yourself. Celebrate the things you do achieve and the good moments you have with your baby but try not to over-criticise and over-focus on the things you don’t manage

Support for perinatal mental health issues

If you feel you need more support than these mental health self-care techniques can offer, you can:

  • talk to your doctor or Benenden Health members can call GP 24/7

  • talk to your midwife, health visitor or NICU outreach nurse

  • Benenden Health members can call 24/7 Mental Health Helpline

  • Benenden Health members can log in and join online classes , including home exercise classes, and mental wellbeing classes on improving sleep and mindfulness. To sign up, visit My Benenden.