New Baby, New Feelings
Pregnancy and the period after childbirth are significant times of change in a person’s life. It is common for women and their partners to experience many different emotions during this time.
The general perception of new parenthood is that it is supposed to be one of the most exciting and happy experiences you’ll ever have. Sometimes, however, the reality is quite different from what you imagined.
Some women experience mental health problems in pregnancy or after birth. These can either be illnesses that women have had before or, for some women, it may be the first time they become unwell. Fathers can also experience many of the same mental health conditions during this time and should seek support in just the same way.
The Perinatal positivity website has some helpful resources and videos you might like to look at.
Why do I feel this way?
There are many reasons why you may experience feelings you hadn’t expected. Childbirth can leave you feeling exhausted and anxious and many parents struggle with the new set of demands a baby brings and the lack of independence and routine. Some babies are born prematurely or are unwell which may cause additional worry and other factors - such as lack of support, isolation, financial pressures or your own experience of being parented - may all affect how you feel. Hormonal and physical changes as well as a lack of sleep can also play a role.
During the first week after childbirth, many women get what's often called ‘the baby blues’. Women can feel very emotional and may burst into tears for no apparent reason. Some women may also experience feelings of low mood but this is very common and should resolve within a few weeks. If these feelings are lasting for longer please do speak to your Health Visitor or GP.
Anxiety and Posnatal Depression
Anxiety and depression are very common in pregnancy and postnatally.
Symptoms might include:
- Not being able to enjoy your baby as you expected
- Feeling anxious most of the time
- Feeling unable to sleep even when the baby sleeps or feeling like you are sleeping too much
- Excessively worrying about yourself or your baby leading to feelings of panic
- Not being able to look forward to things
- Feeling low or a loss of confidence
- Changes in appetite
- Poor concentration
- Lack of energy or feeling unable to relax
- Thoughts about harming yourself or your baby
Postpartum Psychosis is a very rare but severe episode of mental illness which begins suddenly in the days or weeks after having a baby. Women with a history of severe mental illness (especially Bipolar Disorder), or a family history of mental illness around childbirth are at increased risk, but it can happen to any woman. Symptoms vary and change rapidly but can include: feeling manic, excessively energetic and talkative, being restless, agitated, withdrawn, being very confused, unable to sleep, having racing thoughts, feeling paranoid and suspicious, developing odd thoughts or beliefs and behaviour that is out of character.
It is a medical emergency and you should you should call 999 as soon as possible.
Difficult feelings about the birth
Some women may feel that they have had a traumatic birthing experience and for others pregnancy and childbirth can trigger difficult emotions that can be hard to manage. This is something you can discuss with your midwife or health visitor who can advise you regarding where to get further help.
What to do if you feel any of these things?
If you think you or someone you know could be experiencing a problem with their mental health, then it is important to talk about it and to get help.
Speak to a health professional - talk to your midwife, health visitor and GP. The more people who know how you’re feeling the more support you’ll receive. Midwives have specialist teams that can offer you pregnancy-specific support, health visitors can do additional visits as well as help support the parent-infant relationship and GPs can discuss different treatment options. If a postpartum psychosis is suspected this is an emergency and you should call 999.
What else can help?
Simple self-nurturing activities can also help you to feel better. Getting proper rest, eating healthily and regularly, and getting some exercise - even just a short walk - are all things that you can do to help protect your emotional health. Building supportive relationships with other local parents through antenatal groups or by accessing playgroups at the children’s centres can help you to feel less isolated and talking things over with a trusted person is also very important.
Be kind to yourself and don’t try to be a superhero. Ask for help if you need it and accept as much practical support as possible during the first few weeks. Remind yourself regularly of the new skills you have learned as well as other talents you have and reward yourself when you have done something successfully.