WHEN we're pregnant our brain goes ten to the dozen with questions, doubts and worst case scenarios:
"Oh god, I had a glass of wine before finding out I was pregnant, what have I done?!"
"Can I have soft cheese? What about eggs, I really like eggs. And what's the deal with peanuts?"
"Are my feet meant to be that size?"
"Surely peeing this much is dangerous?"
"Am I a crap mum if I don't have the new must have nappy bin/bottle maker/celeb endorsed pram?"
"Will the other kid/s be jealous when this one arrives?"
And so on, for 9. Long. Months.
Never in your life have you had so much of your body change: as quickly and vastly and it's a mind boggling process. You have to learn how to best look after yourself, go to the many appointments with midwives and doctors, read up about birthing a human and options for during labour all the while somehow squeezing in some time to understand how to look after a tiny human too. Sometimes, even that doesn't happen.
I spent so much time learning about how to grow a baby I didn't do any research into how to raise one.
It's no wonder that for some parents (more than you would imagine) they begin to have anxiety or depression during pregnancy or after birth.
Isn't it crazy then that we spend more time, picking out outfits, decorating nurseries & choosing prams than discussing or thinking about our mental health and how the whole 'becoming parents' thing feels?
We and the health care profession tend to have a habit of concentrating on the physical side of growing and birthing a baby, which of course is hugely important. But should it be any less important that making sure we are coping with it all, and if we are not, finding a way to help each other?
The most recent study shows that between 10-20% of mothers have some form of perinatal mental illness during or after pregnancy. And that is only the figures based on those who report it. The number is undoubtably far higher. Especially when you include paternal mental health problems too.
That's why its vital that every time you hear the words 'Birth Plan', try thinking 'Birth and Mental Health Plan' instead.
What do I include in my Mental Health Plan, I hear you say?
- Discuss with your partner/birthing partner how you are feeling and how you will both communicate your emotions and thoughts during and after pregnancy.
- Promise to be honest and objective with one another. Try not to get personal.
- Talk about what roles you are expecting one another to take when baby is here, it doesn't have to be set in stone, but it gives you an idea of what to expect from one another. For example, who will be cooking dinner during the week or weekends? If breastfeeding doesn't work out or mum expresses, will dad/partner help with night feeds? Who will take the other child/ren to school in the first few weeks?
- During pregnancy (or at any time you can) research local and national support for pre or post-natal mental illnesses in case you or you partner does struggle emotionally. PANDAS runs local support groups as well as having a phone helpline and online support. Mind also can provide access to counseling there are lots of other superb charities that can help too.
- Talk to your midwives and health visitor about support they can suggest in case of mental illness.
- Get a parent village in place: Attend antenatal classes or groups so that you have some local friends who will have babies around the same time. This can help tremendously so that you can ask for advice or even have a moan about sleepless nights with others who know exactly how you feel at the same time. If you already have close parent friends, then speak or see them as much as you can to ensure that you aren't isolated.
- Talk about who and when you'd like to have visit first, and if you change your mind once baby is born, don't feel guilty for changing the plans, you know what is best for your family.
- Ask family & friends for help during pregnancy and after baby being born. You can suggest to everyone that when they come to meet baby to bring lunch with them, or chocolate at the very least. Explain that they can make their own cups of tea; one for you and your other half while they're at it, thank you very much.
- Don't put yourself under any pressure to do anything, be anywhere or look a certain way after the birth, take each day as it comes and see how you feel.
- If someone asks you how you are, at any point, don't just say fine if you're not. Tell them. If you feel it isn't the right person to open up to, put a pin in it and tell a loved one later in the day. Don't wait for them to ask you though, just put it out there.
So as you can see, its not even that hard to put into place or take that much time from planning your baby.
We all have mental health and it can be affected by such things as changes in hormones and/or circumstances; guess what life event does both? You guessed it, having a baby.
And Dad's, don't think that this can't affect you, its now be proven that men experience changes in hormones after a baby is born too, add to that the pressure of being the 'hunter gatherer' in the first few months and it can affect your mental health too.
Look after each other physically, emotionally and mentally as best you can.
Of course, I'm not saying that making this plan will prevent any changes in mental health or the onset of pre or post-natal mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety. I wish it would. But it can certainly help you deal with it together should it arise for either of you.
Just remember if you or your partner are having any prolonged feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger or 'nothingness' then reach out and talk to loved ones and health care professionals.
I want to end on one piece of advice that I now give to all my parent-to-be friends:
Never feel guilty for any decision you make as a parent (unless, you know, it is dangerous or something) you are doing your best, and that is all any of us are expected to do.
Babies and children just want love, security, toys and food. They don't care if you haven't made your own pureed food or played them Mozart for three hours a day. They just want cuddles. Don't we all?!
PANDAS is a small charity who completely rely on donations in order for us to support families, if you would like to donate to PANDAS to help us support sufferers of perinatal mental illnesses please text PANDAS £3, £5 or £10 to 70660. Or you can visit our website for further information and support. www.PANDASFoundation.org.uk
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