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Our Favourite Ways to Spot if your Maternal Mental Health is Suffering

Thanks to Mental Health Awareness Week - and the recent 'Shout' initiative, backed by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex - mental health is currently a major topic of discussion.

 

Mental health is an issue that can affect everyone, whether they suffer from it or know someone who does. Recent statistics show that 1 in 10 women develop a mental illness when pregnant or during the first 12 months after having their baby and while many women manage to get through this time with medical help, love and support from their friends and family, mental health can be so strong that even the most supported women can still struggle. This has resulted in suicide being cited as the leading cause for women during this period.

How to spot maternal mental health issues

A staggering 7 in 10 women are playing down the level of their perinatal and post-natal mental illness making it increasingly hard to spot the warning signals that all may not be well. Here are a few of the most common signs:

  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Frequent crying
  • Changes in appetite
  • Increased anxiety
  • Difficulty connecting to your baby
  • No longer enjoying activities that once brought pleasure

Whilst these could be seen as the 'baby blues', which may last a few weeks after your baby's birth, if they continue longer, you need to speak to your health advisor or doctor. It is also worth noting that women who have suffered from any form of mental health issues before pregnancy are at greater risk during pregnancy or after birth.

So, how can you keep your mental health in good shape? 

The first step is to acknowledge you may be feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed.  Find someone you feel comfortable talking to - your partner, a friend, parent or medical professional.  During pregnancy, many women may feel that if they speak out about the state of their mental health they could be perceived as 'not coping' and this is never the case.  By talking things through you can concentrate on keeping your mental health healthy or get help where needed.

Do what you love

Do also continue to do things that you enjoy, just tailor them accordingly if you need to.  For instance, you can still meet with the girls for a night out, just make it earlier or meet for lunch instead. Keeping in touch with friends and family is an important factor in life, especially so if you are pregnant or a new mum.

Keep an eye on your diet

Of course, it's wise to eat healthily while pregnant or while breastfeeding for example, but you also need to eat the right foods to keep your mental health positive.

Maintain an active lifestyle

This is imperative in everyone's life but especially so when you are pregnant or just given birth. Taking time out to go for a walk, yoga class, swimming or heading to the gym not only helps keep those extra pounds away, it can also help you clear your mind.  By taking a break from life you can take stock of what is happening in your life.

Involve your partner

If you feel overwhelmed by the pregnancy or by the strains of motherhood, make sure your partner knows how you are feeling throughout. They can alter their behaviour accordingly and you can share the journey knowing you can say exactly how you feel. Bottled-up emotions typically spill out eventually, but to an unknowing partner who doesn't understand, the fallout can often be tensions in the relationship.

Talk about your concerns

Pregnancy can be a worrying time for everyone, especially if you are pregnant with your first child.  Speak to your health advisor and discuss any concerns you, or your partner, may have.  Not knowing what can happen can cause a buildup of unnecessary worry so discussing your concerns can help put those fears at ease.  If you are not comfortable talking about your concerns initially there are many pregnancy books available that can also help you.

We're all different

The main thing to remember when having a baby is that everyone is different and how your mum/sister/best friend managed is not going to be the same as your experience.  Many women who appear to be coping well will also have moments where they will struggle so try not to compare yourself to anyone else. 

If you are struggling with your mental health take time out and speak to someone.  Equally, if someone you know is pregnant or just had a baby, do keep a caring eye on them.  It could be that they are needing help but do not know how to ask or are unable to admit that they need a little support. 

There are also many charities that you can turn to if you feel that you do not have anyone to talk to including MIND and Heads Together. If your relationship is under strain and you are facing separation or divorce, it is worth seeking the advice of a divorce solicitor who is experienced in handling sensitive family matters - often they can simply put your mind at rest about what would happen if you separated. They will also ensure that your case is dealt with compassionately and will take your mental health into account during any decisions and discussions.

About the Author

Henry Brookman is a divorce solicitor and senior partner at Brookman, a highly experienced family law firm, with expertise in a full range of family legal matters including divorce in the UK and internationally, complex financial issues, property settlements and children's matters. Brookman is ranked by the Legal 500 and has been awarded the Law Society's quality mark, Lexcel. For more information visit www.brookman.co.uk.

 
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