How pregnancy affects your mental health and how to cope with it
There are few joys greater than the joy of bringing a new life into this world. Pregnancies around the world are met with great celebration and renewed faith in the marvels of nature. The news of pregnancy can bring together families and renew relationships and feelings of care among to-be parents. It can bring entire communities together in the anticipation of contributing to the growth and well-being of the baby. Pregnancies are exciting and equally nerve-wracking, but pregnant women may not necessarily experience just one of these two emotions.
The excited and joyful atmosphere around pregnancies may be coupled with nerves and fear. If you are a mother-to-be — or you have a partner who is pregnant — and are struggling to cope with your feelings that seem all over the place, then this article is for you.
The first step towards effectively dealing with something is to identify what is happening. Besides the positive feelings of love and joy that you will experience, you might experience mixed emotions because your mind and body undergo numerous changes due to hormones and external factors. This will take a toll on your mental health in many ways, some of which are:
- Insecurities brought on by physical changes.
It is not unknown that pregnancies change women’s bodies, as they are now eating and performing every activity not just for themselves but for the baby (or babies) growing in their womb. If you have previously struggled with insecurities about your body, then changes brought on by pregnancies can make it worse. Pregnant women also experience and naturally worry about weight gain, hair loss, aches in their back and joints, nausea and sleep loss. Many women also fear the pain they have to experience during childbirth. This can be terrifying but it is natural.
- Anxiety and worry about the baby and the future.
It is normal for you to worry about the health of the baby and wonder if things are going the way they are supposed to. Due to the different socio-economic backgrounds that you could be belonging to, you may also be battling anxiety and doubts about your ability to be good mothers and provide for a stable and secure future for the baby (or babies). For many, repeated testing procedures can also be very stressful.
- Overwhelmed by changing roles and responsibilities.
The arrival of a newborn child(ren) changes social roles and requires everyone in the family to make room to accommodate them. This will add to your stress as new parents because you will have to quickly adapt as caretakers and nurturers. Even before the baby’s birth, new parents typically begin to worry about the added responsibility and economic hardships they will face while raising the baby. As normal as this is, excessive levels of anxiety are not healthy.
Depression during pregnancy is one of the most common mental health conditions experienced by expecting mothers. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) estimate that between 14 to 23 per cent of women will experience some symptoms of depression during pregnancy. However, this doesn’t mean it is any easier for you to cope with it as it affects different people differently.
Depression brings with it feelings of anger or irritability, a loss of interest in pleasurable activities, disturbance in appetite and sleep, extreme feelings of sadness, guilt, shame or hopelessness and bouts of crying. Oftentimes, it can get so difficult that it may interfere with your ability to perform daily tasks. Extreme feelings of sadness also release hormones that may affect the development of the baby. This awareness can add extra stress on the pregnant woman.
The chances of developing these conditions may increase if there is a lack of support from the partner and family and if pregnant women experience abuse. Some women may already be struggling with their mental health — which hormonal changes during pregnancies can worsen — and may feel shame to reach out for help. If a pregnant woman is a recovering addict herself, she may feel vulnerable and weak if she does not have adequate support systems.
If you find that you can relate to one or more of these commonly experienced issues during pregnancy, then it is a good idea to seek out the help of a mental health professional best equipped to guide you through this.
Some tips to cope with pregnancy and maintain mental wellbeing are as follows:
- See if it is possible to access affordable therapy catered to pregnant women
- Reach out to support groups with pregnant women or mothers who have had similar experiences during pregnancy.
- Plan and prepare for the pregnancy and post-delivery
- Prepare schedules with your partner and doctor to give yourself plenty of time to process each step of pregnancy
- Set realistic expectations and goals that are achievable
- Find support systems in families and friends and lean on your partner for assistance
- Practice self-care, which involves eating and sleeping well, good nutrition intake and moderate exercise and interacting with loved ones
- You can practice yoga, meditation and mindfulness exercises to calm down and feel more at ease
- Avoid the use of any medication that is not prescribed by a registered doctor
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco, drugs of all kinds
- Indulge in safe activities that give you joy.
It is absolutely alright to be uncertain about the future and worry about it to some degree – this will help ensure that you will take steps to create the best possible environment for the newest member of the family. It is important to know that such mixed feelings of joy and fear can exist together at the same time and they are completely normal, as long as they do not hinder your movement or affect daily activities. A healthy mind is crucial for the healthy development of the baby in the womb as a well-prepared mother-to-be and her partner will be in the best mental state to nurture and raise the child.