We often tend to talk about mental health after pregnancy in terms of postnatal depression (PND), which affects more than one in every 10 women within a year of giving birth. Depression during pregnancy is common too but often gets dismissed as hormonal imbalance paired with the stress of a big life change.
When I was struck by depression in both my first and third trimester I assumed the same. “This is just part of being pregnant,” I thought but after reaching out to my midwife and the mental health team I realised that I needed additional support and that was nothing to feel ashamed about.
Here are some other things I learnt in those nine months.
1. Don’t isolate yourself
Antenatal depression can rise out of a host of different things. In the beginning of your pregnancy you’re likely to feel physically sick and tired. You might be experiencing new anxieties about motherhood, your financial status and your relationship. A lot of people deal with this by isolating themselves and for me isolation feeds the depression. I decide I’m not good enough; I need to hide away and not talk to anyone. In doing so it becomes even harder to reach out to someone to say: “Hey, I’m not doing so great.”
2. Talk as honestly as you can to your doctor and midwife
One of the best things I did was to force myself to be brutally honest to my midwife. In the beginning I was nervous that if I disclosed anything about my mental health or any of the intrusive thoughts I was having they’d tell me I couldn’t be a mother. Of course that didn’t happen, no one wants you to fail.
It also helped telling my boyfriend that I wanted him to be honest with the professionals as well, and that I wouldn’t’ be offended. That way if they ask: “How’s it going” and I shrug because I feel awkward, he can elaborate: “Well it’s been a bit tough recently, I’ve been a bit worried about her.” It saved me from having to do all the talking.
3. Don’t just wait for it to go away
There are a lot of symptoms in pregnancy that do just appear and reappear and go away on their own. Luckily for me morning sickness left after the first trimester and only came back for a bit in the third.
Depression was a different story. If I’d waited my depression out it would’ve only gotten worse. I know this from past experiences. Talking to the midwife was a great first step in getting access to additional resources, seeing a therapist and talking to a local community nurse. Within weeks I went from feeling desperate and alone to having an entire team of people looking out for me.
4. Come up with an action plan
It’s hard to be proactive when your depression tells you you’re worthless, lazy and inevitably going to be a bad mum. No matter how many times people would try to cheer me up I just wouldn’t listen, their voices couldn’t get through my own negative self image.
In the past I’ve found the route out of depression has to come from me and it was similar in pregnancy. I went back to making small manageable lists that felt do-able and weren’t great big mammoth tasks. Setting simple things like “brush teeth”, “call doctor” and “read one chapter of pregnancy book” would be enough to make me feel like I’d done something that day.
5. Support groups are a godsend
Keep your eyes peeled on flyers in coffee shops in your area, ask your midwife for local services and check your council’s website for mother and child meet ups. Just knowing there are people who are dealing or have dealt with the wild ride that’s pregnancy and motherhood can be a great comfort.
I also found lots of support and friendship in Facebook groups. There are a ton of pregnancy and mother groups, some are even planned around due dates so people are right there with you every step of the way. Do shop around though; some can be judgemental and a bit dramatic. I had to leave one where people fought about vaccinations on a daily basis.
However my favourite one, which is an offshoot of a group related to a podcast I listen to called The Ladygang, is filled with friendly women who share tips, resources and worries. I log on a couple times a day to check how everyone’s doing and share anything that’s on my mind.
6. You can take medication
Not that long ago, the moment you told your GP you were pregnant you’d be taken off your anti-depressants. However, more research has suggested that the risk to your baby is very minimal. My midwife told me that it was more important to make sure I was OK so I was able to do things like go to my appointments, which might be hindered in the throes of depression.
The research around which medications are safe in pregnancy can be conflicting and the best is to speak to multiple health care providers. Talk it through with both your GP and your midwife and anyone else you might have available to you.
Meds aren’t for everyone and you might find you don’t need them as part of your treatment plan. If you do, don’t hesitate to pick up your prescription. You’re not doing anything wrong; in fact, you’re making sure you’re well enough to grow that baby inside you.
7. Antenatal depression doesn’t mean you’ll definitely develop PND
If you experience depression in pregnancy don’t feel as if you will definitely develop a postnatal mental health condition. With the right treatment and support you’ll have a depression toolkit that you can turn to should you start to feel wobbly after birth.
You can also set up other precautions to keep your mental wellbeing in check post birth. Make sure you’re not isolated. Have friends and relatives check in with you and see how you’re doing. Lean on any additional support from the midwife and your local health visitor and remember a new baby is like a massive shock to the system; it’s unlike anything you’ve been through before. Don’t be hard on yourself.
8. Take it easy
I found it a bit frustrating when people suggested I needed to take it easy. I mean, I would have loved to, but with being pregnant, moving to a new flat, keeping up with work, finding a job for after mat leave and juggling freelance projects I didn’t have a lot of time to take it easy. However, I did find ways to carve out time just for me.
I became realistic about how many social activities I could do in a week: two was my sweet spot. The rest of the evenings I needed to just be home and watch reality TV. I also started to get very into baths. Normally I’m a three-minute shower type person but I made my bath routine a proper part of the day: I’d get some nice bubble bath, a good book and invested in a bath robe so I could keep up the relaxation after.
9. You are not a bad mother
Don’t compare yourself to other women or their pregnancies. If you’re struggling with yours it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or that you’ll end up being a bad mum. Don’t beat yourself up even more than your depression is already doing.
Motivational speeches in the mirror might not be your cup of tea (it’s definitely not mine) but positive self-talk helped me gain a more balanced view of myself as a future mother. I reminded myself that I loved babysitting children, I’m good at using my imagination and that when I love someone I love them with all my heart. Depression is going to make being a parent difficult at times but nudging myself every now and again to say: “Hey, you’ve got this” makes a world of difference.