What is perinatal mental health?
Perinatal covers through pregnancy and the first year of your baby's life. Mental health is something we all have. Just like with physical health mental health can be good or we can be ill and sometimes we're not great but doing okay. Also, just like we can eat healthy food and keep our bodies active to keep our bodies in good physical health we can look after our minds and keep our mental health generally positive too. But we also need to be aware of how to know if we need extra support with our mental health just like we do with our physical health. The year around when our babies are born can be a time that our mental health needs some extra care and when we need to be especially aware that if it doesn't feel right it's okay to seek out support.
These slides were produced by our Committee Vice-Chair Sinead who is a counsellor with a special interest in perinatal mental health for one of our monthly meet-ups when mental health was our topic. You can hear her chatting more about this topic in the video below.
Our blog editor Sarah also had a chat with our Committee Secretary Sally who is a Doula and has personal experience of perinatal mental health challenges.
Risk factors for perinatal mental health issues.
Perinatal mental health issues can happen to everyone but if you have had previous mental health issues you may be more likely to have them reoccur during pregnancy or postnatally. However, if you've had mental health issues before you may also be more aware of what you can do to help yourself. If you have unresolved previous traumas including having had a previous traumatic birth finding support with this during pregnancy is a really good way of mitigating this potential risk factor. Check out our blog post about recovering from traumatic birth for more information on this including links to people who can support you. If you have a previous experience with psychosis it's very important that you and your care providers are aware that there is a risk of this recurring postnatally and are prepared if extra support is needed. Check out Action On Postpartum Psychosis for more information.
Your lifestyle and previous life expectations especially if you are pregnant for the first time at an older age and have had a lot of control in your professional life up to this point can be a risk factor. If you're used to being able to keep everything really perfect in your home and personal life you may need to prepare for the realities of life with a newborn for the sake of your mental health.
How can I help myself have good mental health?
These ideas won't cure your mental illness you will need professional support with that but they are very good for keeping yourself in good mental health.
Keep moving, gentle exercise isn't just good for your body it's good for your mind too. This can be combined with spending time in nature which is also good for your mental well being. Take walks in the wood or by the sea or in the park, wherever is accessible for you. Have a balanced diet. Keeping your blood sugar levels at a balanced level will help you have a steady mood.
Practice mindfulness. Become aware of your thought patterns and self-talk. If you find self-talk is a source of negativity for you you might want to consider a course in mindfulness and/or cognitive behavioural therapy. There are lots of people who can help and support you with this. One place that has a lot of local resources is the charity Mind. You can check out the local Solent Mind website for information.
If you want to try mindfulness you can find tracks on YouTube or on several different Podcasts on Spotify. If you don't feel comfortable with mindfulness you might find a creative activity has a similar positive effect of keeping you "in the moment". This could be art (again lots of simple learn to draw videos on YouTube for beginners) or a craft such as knitting or cross-stitch or it could be something like putting lego models together. The important thing is that it's fun for you.
Practice Gratitude. Pregnancy is a great time to take up journaling, which is just writing out your feelings to help you express them rather than letting them build up in your head. A gratitude journal where each day you list some things you are grateful for can really help to create positive thought processes.
Join groups. It doesn't have to be specific mental health support groups, although those are available, any group where you chat to people at a similar stage of life to you will allow you to feel you're not alone and other people have the same thoughts and struggles. You may want to start by joining Facebook groups as it sometimes feels a little easier to get into conversation and get to know people that way before meeting people face to face. You're always welcome to come along to our groups. If you're planning to breastfeed you might find it helpful to go along to a local breastfeeding support group while you're pregnant as learning to breastfeed can involve a lot of different feelings and experiences which peer support can be really vital in coming through happily.
Who can help me if my mental health becomes a problem?
The Daisy Team. Local to us in Portsmouth we have a team of specialist mental health midwives who support anyone who has mental health challenges including people with diagnosed mental health illnesses, those who are struggling with tokophobia (fear of pregnancy and birth) and people who have had previous traumatic birth experiences.
Your own GP. Your doctor can support you in pregnancy especially if you're already taking medication for a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. It's really important not to suddenly stop taking your medication when you get pregnant. It may be that you will be fine on the same medication through pregnancy or that you change or wean off medication but you should only ever do this with your doctor's support.
Talking therapies. These can be very useful for all kinds of mental health issues and can work well alongside medication or other alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, homoeopathy. You can access talking therapies through self-referral In Portsmouth through Talking Change and Hampshire through italk (in other areas you should find your local service with a web search for talking therapy self-referral *placename*).
Doulas. Doulas are people who are trained to support families through the perinatal years. They provide practical and emotional support which has been shown to have a very positive impact on mental health and can provide signposting when more intensive mental health support is needed. A good place to start finding out more is via Doula UK.
What about partners can they have perinatal mental health challenges too?
Absolutely mental health issues can happen for anyone in times of change in their lives and you don't have to be the one who is pregnant for this time to be challenging for you. Partners can use all the same positive mental health supports and can access support from their GP and from self-referral to talking therapies also. There are also organisations that can offer specific support Dad's Matter is a national organisation, Dadzclub is local to us in Portsmouth and The Queer Parenting Partnership offers support to partners and families who are LGBTQ+
Information not advice
As with everything we produce this blog is just information, not advice. If you need advice on your own mental health please always speak to your doctor or midwife.