Pregnancy is a tricky time (*understatement of the century*). Lots of us really need mental health support during pregnancy, but either don’t realise it, or feel like our job is just to smile, be glowy, and feel nothing but immense joy and gratitude.
Don’t get me wrong: Growing a child inside you IS very cool! You will smile. You will be glowy (and have exceptional hair). You will feel joyful and grateful at times. But you might also experience crippling back pain, worry about having a miscarriage, and need to tip-toe around your friend Kerri who’s struggling to conceive right now.
Given the social, physical and emotional pressures coming at you (oh and let’s throw some hectic hormones into the mix while we’re at it), it makes sense that 15 per cent of women experience depression, anxiety, or other issues related to mental health during pregnancy.
So let’s explore how to take care of your mental health during pregnancy, shall we? Here are some things you can (and should) do to look after yourself.
1. Release yourself from expectations
Let’s start here, because I think this alone can set the scene for a healthy mental space during your pregnancy.
There’s this idea out there that mums need to have their sh*t together. They need to be pretty, healthy, happy, and organised. And all that should signify their pregnant state is a cute bump (which should politely disappear immediately after delivery, thank you very much).
Actually mama, no one knows what they’re doing! That’s important to keep in mind as you journey into parenthood. Don’t compare yourself to others, and don’t have unrealistic expectations for yourself. Just don’t! You have nothing to prove, and you’re not ‘failing’ if you need to take extra time off work during pregnancy, if your housework falls by the wayside, or if you just need to say ‘no’ to a few social events so you can be in bed by 9pm. If that’s what you need, that’s completely fine.
A seriously epic way to protect your mental health in pregnancy is to do it your way, and block out all the ‘noise’ out there about how it ‘should’ be.
Which leads me to my next point…
2. Find the right balance with social media
There’s an abundance of great information available on social media these days. We LOVE getting inspo and advice from our fave mums and experts on there (not to mention—reels are life). But remember, not all of this content is relevant to YOU. Trying to do everything the way the influencers do it in their highlights reel can lead to burnout and guilt when you can’t manage it all.
A case of ‘information overload’ can cause major stress, and when we talk about how to maintain mental health during pregnancy, minimising stress is part of it.
She Births birth class founder Nadine Richardson recommends that women be selective in what they tune into during pregnancy. Only let the good, encouraging, useful stuff in, and if you’re increasingly feeling anxious after a peruse through your feed, try taking a step back from social media and see if that helps.
3. Direct your questions to your doctor (not Google)
Another key to protecting your mental health in pregnancy is to get proper medical advice, rather than jumping onto Google when you’re worried about something. As per my previous point on social media, the internet is oversaturated with information, and as you probably know, anyone can publish anything up there. (Exhibit A: Wikipedia.)
Any time you’re worried about your pregnancy or your baby, ask your doctor about it. Your actual, medically qualified doctor.
Yeah, and stay away from that random pregnancy forum thread from 2002.
4. Deal with any fear around birth
Fear of birth can seriously impact your mental health during pregnancy, and may get worse as you get further along.
If you find your mind often drifting to gruesome thoughts of childbirth, address this as soon as possible. Do these things:
- Check out this article Midwife Beth Ryan wrote on how to get over fear of birth.
- Educate yourself by attending a birth class.
- Consider chatting to a pregnancy counsellor if it’s something you’re really freaking out about.
Final note on this: You might want to repress thoughts of giving birth, but it’s much better for your mental health if you face these fears and process what your epic body is going to do. Birth affirmations are a powerful tool to add to your repertoire, too (thank me later!).
5. Keep doing things you love
Your life is not over. I repeat: Your. Life. Is. Not. Over.
Just because you’re pregnant, and about to be a MUM, doesn’t mean you have to stop doing the things you enjoy. Keeping up your hobbies and seeing your friends are an important part of mental health care during pregnancy. It’s seriously good for you, and will make you feel like ‘you’ – even if your boobs are double their usual size.
So don’t resign yourself to a life of mending socks and cooking soup upon the hearth (apparently it’s Victorian England now) – you can totally keep being you.
*no shade towards women that love socks and soup.
6. Look after your physical health
BORING! But seriously, your physical health is inextricably linked to your mental health. If you eat nutritious foods, stay hydrated, and get some physical activity into your day (yes, pregnant people can work out!), then you’re well on your way to optimum mental health in pregnancy.
The second part to this is being proactive about your pregnancy ailments. For example, if morning sickness is stressing you out, ask your doctor for advice on how to manage it. If your pelvic pain is next level, get it checked by a women’s health physio.
Physical health care is an important part of your mental health care during pregnancy. So prioritise it! (Pregnancy massages are also encouraged. For mental health, obviously.)
7. Ask for, and accept, help
Asking for help is admittedly a learned skill (and something women often struggle to do), but it’s one thing to take seriously when exploring how to improve mental health during pregnancy. Studies have shown that when women feel supported during pregnancy, it leads to better birth experiences and even protects against postpartum depression.
As weird as it sounds, you’re not really meant to do pregnancy on your own. Even if you are planning to be a single parent, you need support around you. People you can lean on when you’re feeling sh*t. People who’ll come when you call—preferably bearing snacks.
And now let’s talk about your partner, if you have one. As useless as they may seem in the pregnancy process, it really is a team effort. Share the experience with them, and use it as an opportunity to get closer in your relationship. But most importantly, make use of ‘the pregnancy card’ when you want them to cook dinner for you.
8. Talk to your doctor about your mental health care during pregnancy
Mental health checks are generally a routine part of the prenatal screening process. But to be frank, it’s often glossed over. If you have any genuine concerns about your mental health during pregnancy, bring it up with your doctor or midwife. And don’t feel silly about it—they’re there to support you.
In some cases, your doctor might recommend medication to help you manage your mental health during pregnancy. Hash out all the details if this is the case, but know that there’s nothing wrong with needing medication to support your mental health. It’s not a sign there’s something ‘wrong’ with you, but simply that your genetics make you susceptible to mental health stuff. This. Is. Fine.
Mama, we hope this article has helped you (or at least given you a giggle). If you feel like you might benefit from chatting to a counsellor, read our guide to the 6 best pregnancy counsellor services in Sydney.