Becoming a new parent is a transition which some of us understandably travel through differently. The exact cause of maternal mental health issues aren’t clear but the contributing factors of my own personal experience of perinatal anxiety and depression were a difficult birth experience, my baby having underlying health issues (cranial problems), having PCOS prior to pregnancy (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – a hormonal and endocrine disorder) normal pregnancy hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, work stress and financial worry. I’d wanted a baby for so long and felt disappointed that the whole experience was not what I thought it was going to be and that brought with it a truck load of big emotions and resistance.
This blog is to shine a light on maternal mental health week and to perhaps encourage mums that are suffering that is going to be okay and it is safe to reach out for some help.
Perinatal mental health problems affect between 10-20% of women during pregnancy and the first year after having a baby. Historically there has been a lack of integration between the physical and mental health care of mums and specialist mental health services to support women who become unwell.
Baby Blues v Perinatal anxiety and depression
Research suggest that during pregnancy and the year after birth many of us (up to 80%) experience common mild mood changes of feeling sad, tired and worried and this generally last a couple of weeks. Perinatal anxiety and depression affect approximately 12-13% of mums and are both powerful, lasting much longer, and their symptoms include:
• Severe mood swings
• Sense of hopelessness
• Constant worry
• Panic attacks
• Difficulty in caring for and bonding with your baby
• Memory loss
• Feeling no joy
• Disconnection with the world
• Difficulty in coping
• Scared to open up
• Feel like your baby may be taken away
• The need to escape
• Intrusive thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
• You don’t feel what you thought you’d feel
I had my daughter in 2005 and the first step for me was reaching out to my husband and admitting I didn’t feel right and I visited my lovely GP. I answered a series of questions through a lot of tears and my GP suggested some anti-depressant medication but no real signposting for any other help. The medication took six weeks to work and I did begin to feel better. Because I was scared to speak out, I had waited until my daughter was 6 months old and I wish I had done it sooner. After visiting the GP, I put a lot of effort into researching perinatal mental health myself and found out a lot of information about the hormones Oestrogen and Progesterone which are so much higher during pregnancy and within hours they drop to their previous state before pregnancy which can be a cause of maternal mental health.
Following complications during the birth my daughter was born with cranial problems and had issues with falling to sleep, feeding, couldn’t lay flat, hated the car seat and pram and had dreadful colic and eczema. After her first cranial treatment with an Oesteopath she fell asleep on her own and this was a turning point for me where life started to return to ‘normal’.
I had never experienced mental health issues before the birth but was determined to empower myself and learn as much as I could about self-care. I decided to have some talking therapies through a local charity (I paid what I could afford each visit), I avoided alcohol, I made sure I ate well and kept hydrated, I took daily exercise in nature, I took supplements, I learnt about anxiety and the brain, I took salt infused baths, I used aromatherapy to support my mood, I asked for help in having a few hours to myself every day, I meditated and did online yoga, I went to see a Bach Flower Practitioner to help my mood, I went for a massage or a pedicure trying not to feel guilty, I slept when my baby slept (under protest), I was kind to myself on bad days, I lowered my expectations of what I needed to achieve in a day.
I had the courage to stand up at a mother and baby group to say I had been struggling and told my story. As the group broke up to leave, a couple of mums came to thank me and explained how they had been struggling too. It was at this point I decided to train as a counsellor to help other mums and fifteen years later I still support people going through this transition.
The NHS is increasing specialist mental health support to allow an additional 30,000 women to receive the treatment they need from 2020-2021. There has been a lack of data which identifies women with perinatal mental health issues and local groups I have come across do work hard to improve the resilience of new mums and there is help out there.
The best ‘medicine’ I found was honesty, connection and treating myself holistically (looking after the physical, mental and emotional parts of me) but during this current health pandemic physical connection is difficult. There are so many great parent groups out there and in our local area (North Yorkshire) there is Ripon and Nidderdale Mumbler that exists first and foremost as a supportive and friendly online community for local parents. Niki who runs the organisation says “The Facebook group brings parents together for when they want to chat, need advice, want to share something or need support. It is so important to know that even with social distancing in place you can make friends and reach out to someone local for a chat, a virtual coffee or for support.”
They have lots of blogs, activity ideas and information on the website for supporting families while at home. These include fitness activities, ideas to keep children of all ages occupied, information on online classes, home schooling tips, mindfulness and advice on where to find help for appropriate mental health support during the lockdown.
There is also a great free Facebook group run by Emma called Ripon Mums who have a private chat group for anyone needing help too. Ripon Library also have many events and groups supporting new parents.
Perinatal mental health issues do not discriminate, I personally think the numbers are much higher because people may be scared to speak up and ask for help, leaving a lot of cases to go undetected. Never be frightened to speak up, you don’t have to have experienced any other factors apart from huge hormonal and chemical change during pregnancy for your mental health to suffer. Whatever maternal mental health issue you are experiencing, you haven’t failed, you will get through and there are plenty of mums out there willing to share their story to become a beacon of hope.
Gail Donnan is a published author, wellness writer and practitioner. She owns The Mindfulspace Wellbeing Studios and The Little Lodge both in Ripon, North Yorkshire. If you are a new mum in Ripon and the surrounding areas and are struggling right now you please get in touch regarding subsidised talking therapy support during the lock down period. (April/May 2020 client case load dependant)
Please note that none of this advice is intended to as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.