Being a new mum isn’t always a bed of roses.  Whilst many of us have bad days, around 20-30% of pregnant new mums experience a mental health illness in pregnancy until the first two years post birth.  If you look round your antenatal class that might mean at least 2-3 of you might end up experiencing a mental health illness.

Perinatal Mental Health

For a long time, there was only what was referred to as postnatal depression.  Increasingly we are realising that mums are affected in pregnancy as well as post birth and there’s a spectrum of mental health.

We now understand that some mums don’t get depressed but become highly anxious.  Other mums develop obsessive compulsive disorder. And some have such difficult births that they develop birth-related PTSD. In rare circumstances (around 1 in 1000), mums develop psychosis post birth. Some mums might have a mixture of these – they aren’t exclusive.

These are now under the umbrella of Perinatal Mental Health.

Symptoms to look out for

Here’s some TYPICAL symptoms that you might be experiencing although they are by no means exclusive and you are unlikely to be experiencing all of them.

  • Feeling irritable and angry
  • Crying or often being on the verge of crying
  • Feeling unable to cope
  • Having negative thoughts about yourself, such as “I am a bad mother”
  • Worrying unnecessarily about things that wouldn’t normally bother you
  • Excessive worry about your baby’s health
  • Being afraid of being left alone with your baby
  • Uncontrollable feelings of panic
  • Overwhelming fears, for example fear of dying
  • Sleeping problems – ie even when your baby is asleep you can’t sleep
  • Feeling exhausted and lethargic
  • Lack of interest in your surroundings and appearance, or becoming obsessively tidy
  • Trouble concentrating and feeling distracted
  • Gaining or losing large amounts of weight
  • Loss of pleasure in activities you usually enjoy, including loss of libido (sex drive)
  • Feelings of guilt that you’re a bad mother
  • Having hallucinations
  • Feeling like you don’t want to exist anymore
  • Intrusive thoughts of harm to yourself or your baby

Getting help

If you are experiencing these symptoms – it’s worth seeking help as follows:

  • Speak to your GP and/or health visitor/midwife.
  • Your GP might suggest medication – there’s really helpful information here about what medications you can take whilst breastfeeding.
  • Head along to your local Juno group – these groups are peer support groups for all women experiencing perinatal mental health.  They are well managed and will help to signpost you to a wide variety of services. The facilitators of the groups have all experienced perinatal mental health illnesses and have all recovered thereby they all know where you are and where you want to get to.  These are drop in groups which run each week (variability during the school holidays).
  • Crossreach in Edinburgh provides group and individual counselling – you can self-refer or ask your GP to refer you.  They also provide a free crèche whilst you are having your sessions.  They ask for a small donation towards the sessions.
  • Rivers Centre – is an NHS specialist trauma centre in Edinburgh
  • Private Counselling – there are a variety of counsellors in Edinburgh that can support you – suggested services are Birth and Beyond, PF Counselling, First Psychology Edinburgh
  • Consider other private therapies such as Emotional Freedom Technique, Birth Trauma Recovery, Acupuncture, EMDR, Hypnosis, Trauma Release Exercise and many more.
  • Online help and support – whilst there’s some brilliant groups on social media, be aware that some aren’t well managed.  A good starting point is PNDandMe.

If you or your partner have private medical insurance, you may be able to get financial assistance to get private therapy.

Juno has also put together a really helpful list of resources and organisations that you can contact at any time of night or day.

Self-care tools

There are lots of ways that you can support yourself at home.  These include:

  • Exercise (although we know often it can take all your effort to get dressed nevermind exercise)
  • Yoga
  • Meditation/mindfulness – great apps for your phone include Insight Timer (FREE), Headspace
  • Journaling is known to help – buy yourself a journal and let it all out
  • Listening to music can be something that really raises your energy
  • Taking 30 mins each day to do something for you – whether that’s running a bath, reading a book, watching television
  • Nutrition – steer clear of the biscuits and coffee, whilst they might provide a short-term fix, you are better to focus on drinking lots of water and eating much healthier food to get out of the carb crash cycle
  • Ensure you are taking enough vitamin D
  • There’s a link between your gut health and mental health so consider taking some good quality probiotics

Recovery is possible

We know that recovery from Perinatal Mental Health illness is possible.  Whilst when you’re in it, it can be hard to ever think you can get better.  The research is very clear though that you can get better.  And the earlier you access help, the least impact it will have on your life.

Dads/partners can be affected too

Whilst this post focusses on mums – it’s worth being aware that dads and partners can also be affected by Perinatal Mental Health too.  Whilst this is still a really under researched area – it appears that between 10-30% of dads and partners experience a Perinatal Mental Health illness.  It can manifest itself in very different ways than it does for mums.  All the ideas for help in this post are as applicable to them as they are to mums.

Guest post:  Tricia Murray is a Fertility, Birth and Parenting Coach, EFT Therapist, Doula and Birth Trauma Specialist supporting mums and dads to enjoy birth and early parenting and feel confident and calm throughout. She is Founder of the Birth and Baby AcademyEdinburgh Birth and Baby and Juno Perinatal Mental Health Support.

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Have you just had a new baby? Here's everything you need to know about perinatal mental health. Be sure you can help others and watch out for signs of postpartum depression.

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