Pregnancy & Mental Health

Making the Transition to Motherhood

Good mental health is important for pregnancy and the transition to motherhood.
Pregnancy marks an important transition in any woman’s life and like any time of transition it is full of hopes and worries.

Adjusting to motherhood and related life changes can be stressful at times e.g;

  • lack of sleep
  • social isolation – being at home with the baby all day on your own
  • having concerns about whether your baby is developing normally
  • not knowing what to do to stop the baby from crying/if they have enough to eat etc

Conception and birth are passages from one phase of like to another and most often lead to personal growth, as the woman takes on this new role in life as a mother.

The 9 months of pregnancy provide an opportunity for women to work through issues from their own past, how they were parented and how they want to parent their own child. This can be a difficult experience for women or men who had negative experiences of family life.

As the pregnancy progresses women begin to view life experiences in terms of how they will impact on themselves and their baby. As the pregnancy progresses women also transform the image of themselves to a mother and the image of a baby into a real child. Throughout pregnancy the mother infant relationship begins to be established. Developing images and fantasies of the baby can help this. Research has shown that images of the baby developing during pregnancy are strongly related to the type of relationship developed between the mother and her infant afterwards.

Changes in body chemistry and hormonal levels can exacerbate symptoms or lead to symptoms not seen before the pregnancy. Depression at this time can be particularly frightening for women, because society expects them to be full of excitement about the arrival of their baby. Women who get depressed during a pregnancy may be reluctant to seek a diagnosis because of a fear of treatment and effects on the baby and because they are guilty for feeling depressed in the first place.

There are risks of untreated depression during pregnancy for mother and baby.

Postnatal Blues (Third day blues)
The baby blues are when you feel moody, weepy, tired or anxious during the first week after giving birth. (usually the third day) These feelings are very common and will usually pass within a few days. As many as 80% mums experience some changes in their mood after giving birth.

Postnatal Depression
Following childbirth some women (about 12-15% of all mothers) experience some degree of Postnatal Depression. However, unlike the baby blues, PND is an illness that is unlikely to get better quickly, and without help. The sooner you recognise that you have PND, and get the support that you need, the less likely it is to become a severe or long-term problem.

Common symptoms include feeling:

  • Low
  • Tearful
  • Anxious
  • Tired but unable to sleep
  • Irritable
  • Loss of appetite
  • Panicky

A leaflet called Posnatal Depression is available from Department of Health Promotion, and is given to each mother during pregnancy, or prior to discharge from hospital.

Women should be encouraged to talk to their PHN or GP, if they have any worries about how they’re feeling !

Practical ways in which women can look after their mental health during and after pregnancy

There are many practical ways in which women can look after their mental health during and after pregnancy. These include:

  • Practising ways to relax
  • Planning ahead and accepting all offers of help
  • Preparing other children
  • Talking to partner or someone close
  • Being realistic
  • Practising positive self talk
  • Discussing hopes for labour and the birth
  • Allowing oneself to be emotional after birth
  • Asking to discuss experience of labour and birth
  • Listening to their body and having a good cry
  • Involving their partner/close family member/friend
  • If worried, asking for help

For information on services for Pregnancy & Mental Health click here