The physical, hormonal and lifestyle changes that come with pregnancy can understandably impact how we feel about ourselves and our mental health. Mary Ross-Davie, director of Royal College of Midwives for Scotland, explains how to stay well and how to seek help…
“For some women, pregnancy can be a fantastic, positive thing,” says Mary Ross-Davie, who works as director of Royal College of Midwives for Scotland and is also a former perinatal mental health midwife. “But for other women, pregnancy can be much more complicated and bring a whole range of emotions around being pregnant and becoming a new mum.”
What causes mental health issues in pregnancy?
“We know that times of uncertainty and change, like pregnancy, can have a huge impact on mental health,” says Mary. And let’s face it, the changes your body goes through during pregnancy while you’re growing a whole human inside you are pretty incredible.
Then there are the lifestyle factors that can inevitably have an impact. “Day to day, pregnancy can interfere with the daily routines that keep you mentally well: maybe your favourite foods are off limits, and you don’t have the energy to do your usual level of exercise. Being on maternity leave can also feel isolating as you don’t see your work colleagues, who are an important part of your social network.”
We know that times of uncertainty and change, like pregnancy, can have a huge impact on mental health
What kinds of mental health issues are we talking about?
Around 12% of women experience anxiety and depression during pregnancy, according to the NCT, with symptoms including worrying about the birth and about becoming a mum, poor sleep, severe anxiety, lack of energy, irritability, panic attacks, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and feeling emotionally detached from the pregnancy.
When to get help
“If you’re worried about how you’re feeling and if your behaviour is impacting your daily life, you should always talk to your midwife or GP,” says Mary. “They won’t judge you, they’ll just send you in the right direction for support.”
The key things to know is that if you are feeling negative thoughts, you’re anxious or depressed, you are definitely not alone and will almost certainly feel much lighter and more empowered if you share what’s going on inside you.
Importantly, in the same way that our healthcare professionals are qualified to talk about the physical symptoms that are taking place inside us – from pelvic floor pain to laxity, sore boobs and everything in between – they are just as qualified to discuss the mental symptoms and feelings taking place inside us, too.
What can you do to protect your mental health while pregnant?
“Aim to think about what you can do to feel better in the next hour or today,” says Mary. “It could be going for a walk or doing a pregnancy home workout, for example. But make sure you move – we understand more and more that there’s a connection between physical health and mental health.
You will almost certainly feel much lighter and more empowered if you share what’s going on inside you
When Jessica Ennis-Hill was pregnant with her second baby, Liv, she used to call her workout sessions ‘time for me’ and recognised fairly quickly how much more positive she felt when she did just a ten or 15-minute Jennis Pregnancy workout session.
“When so much in your body is changing,” says Jess, “exercise really helps you feel like you are taking control back – and that really helped me.”
When it comes to your nutrition: “Make sure you eat healthily and regularly, and avoid stimulants. If your blood sugar dips very low or you have too much caffeine, you’re more likely to feel anxious,” says Mary.
Meditation is also useful in helping you carve out some brain space for yourself and also helping you switch off from a busy brain (there are trimester-specific meditations in the Jennis app).
Finally, Mary suggests that you talk to people you care about and who care about you every day, as that will help you feel connected and supported.
Find out more about Jessica Ennis-Hill’s Jennis Pregnancy app here