There are several ways that you can look after your emotional and mental health while you are expecting your baby. Here are a few strategies for looking after yourself in pregnancy.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself – give yourself time to relax and to reduce your stress as this will not only benefit you and your partner but also your growing baby as the level of stress hormones in your body can affect the developing baby.
Be aware of pressures from others – pressure may not only come from ourselves, but also from the expectations of others (parents, in-laws, family, colleagues). Things have changed since your parents became parents – you have different options, networks and expectations. Whilst they may give advice based on their experiences, with time, you will be drawing on your own experience. This will be based on your own knowledge and understanding about your baby whom you will know better than anyone else. Whilst it can be useful to be open to advice – also trust yourself. If things are getting tough, ask for advice.
Identify other supports - think about who you might be able to approach for different kinds of support that you may need. This not only includes practical support, which you may need especially in the first few weeks after birth, but also emotional support which includes being able to openly share your feelings and concerns without feeling judged.
Be proactive about asking questions of your health provider – don’t be afraid to ask questions or share concerns when you visit your GP, obstetrician or see the midwife – that is what they are there for. If you don’t feel comfortable to speak to your allocated public health provider, ask if there is someone else you can speak to, or arrange an independent appointment with your GP.
Know that it is ok to change your health provider if you’re not satisfied – if you find that you are not comfortable with your health professional, it is ok to request to see someone else and/or change to another provider. It is very common for women to feel vulnerable, especially in their first pregnancy, and hence not voice concerns. Changing health providers is about giving you the opportunity to exercise your rights and giving yourself the opportunity to feel comfortable for the remainder of the pregnancy and prior to the birth of your baby.
Be aware of how you are travelling emotionally – whilst there is so much focus on physical changes in the woman, often there is less focus on the mental and emotional health of both expectant parents. Be aware of changes in the way that you may be thinking, feeling and/or behaving. If you are finding that you are constantly worrying, experiencing ongoing stress or distress, this is a good time to seek help now – and nip it in the bud before the baby arrives.
Read the signs – if you have experienced mental health problems before, this is a good time to reflect on what the early signs were. Looking back, you may have misread early signs of conditions like depression and/or anxiety, and put this down to other factors. By having the benefit of hindsight, this gives you the opportunity to consider whether these may have been early signs of a mental health condition, so you can identify and respond earlier this time and potentially prevent things from getting worse.
You can’t prepare for everything – no matter how organised and prepared you feel, remember you cannot prepare for everything and some things may happen that are beyond our control. In some ways keep in mind to ‘expect the unexpected’. This can remind you that it is a time of change.
Like other facets of life, the journey will be easier for some than others, but whatever happens, it is not your fault or a sign that you are not a ‘good’ or ‘successful’ parent. Sometimes it is the hand of cards that we are dealt, and it’s up to us to do what we can, with what we have at the time.