Having a baby is perhaps one of the most significant life events a woman can go through. Making, carrying and birthing babies often bring about some challenges which can have an impact on mental health in the short and long term. It is no secret that pregnancy, birth and postpartum bring about stress on the body and mind, and it is important to look after yourself during this time.
What to look out for in Postpartum Mental Health
How we experience changes in mental health can look a little bit different for everyone, but likely will have similarities over our lifetime. Experiencing low mood, anxiousness and increased tearfulness is extremely common in the immediate postpartum period and is sometimes described as the ‘baby blues'. If this does not go away or develops after this initial period, you may be suffering from postnatal depression (which includes postnatal anxiety).
Postnatal Depression is the name for depression/ anxiety experienced in the postpartum period, and symptoms have a lot of overlap. They may include feeling hopeless, worthless, fatigued (not related to the baby’s sleep), crying a lot or feeling agitated/ irritable.
What I see/ hear a lot of, as a specialist perinatal mental health psychotherapist, is rage towards partner/ baby, feeling like a ‘bad mother’, guilt around the way the baby was birthed/ fed, anxiety about the health of the baby/ feeling like they have damaged their baby psychologically, feeling like they will ‘never be ok’.
More concerning symptoms such as thoughts they would be better off dead or wanting to run away/ escape is also not uncommon in the postpartum period. If you or someone you know are concerned about yours/ their mental health, please do speak to your GP, midwife or specialist perinatal mental health team, who can talk to you about treatment options available. Postnatal Depression is usually treated with medication and/ or talking therapies.
Looking after your mental health in the postpartum.
With or without a diagnosis or experience of postnatal depression and anxiety, it is essential to take care of your physical and mental health and well-being in this period.
You are likely getting less sleep, whilst recovering from either a vaginal or abdominal birth and navigating the early stages of motherhood with all the challenges this brings and so adequate nutrition is essential.
A balanced diet is important, but there is evidence that certain nutrients play a more specific role in maintaining our mental health and general well-being.
Vitamin D has been talked about a lot recently about the role it can play in immunity, but it is also linked with mood. Taking a Vitamin D supplement is recommended living in the dreary UK when our ability to get enough through sunshine alone is much more difficult, and increasing vitamin D levels can also increase mood.
It isn’t rocket science that being adequately nourished contributes to overall health and well-being, and this affects our mental health too.
It is important to note that supplements and diet changes cannot ‘treat’ postpartum depression or anxiety, and if you are worried it is really important to speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor, who can talk to you about different treatment options.
But as a self–confessed chatterbox and qualified psychotherapist, I cannot stress enough how important talking is when navigating the postpartum period. Perhaps join a local mum and baby group, or speak with friends or family about your experiences (the good and the bad), and listen to other stories. You are not alone.
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About the Author
Sarah is a qualified and experienced psychotherapist, specialising in perinatal mental health, living and working in Manchester.
She has also written a Maternal Mental Health Manual designed to support women through what can be a challenging time.
F: Maternal Mental Health Manual