New mums and mental health

A guest post by Sally Hogg

I remember when my son was born, people kept asking ‘are you enjoying being a mum?’ The answer in the very early days, was probably ‘no’. It got better, but it wasn’t fun at first. Yes, he was absolutely amazing and wonderful. But I hurt. I kept crying for no reason. I was so very, very tired. I worried whether I was doing things right, and – to be honest – I missed my old life. This was a momentous time, but it wasn’t enjoyable at first.

But I never said ‘no’ to that question. It was loaded with expectation. Asked by grannies, aunts and older mums who look back at motherhood through rose-tinted glasses.

Are you enjoying being a mum? New mums & mental health

There are many reasons why it’s hard to admit that you’re not having a great time as a new mum. It seems as if everyone else is doing fine and having a magical time. It seems like everyone expects you to be on top of the world, and it feels like failing – and perhaps a betrayal of your baby – to say that you are struggling.

Yet most, if not all, mums will struggle at some time. And for a significant proportion, this struggle may not simply be the normal rollercoaster of new parenthood, but something more serious. Between 10 and 20% of new mums (and around 5-10% of new dads) experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or the first year after their baby is born. To put this in perspective, it means that in any typical antenatal class or baby group, there is likely to be at least one person in the room who has a mental health problem.

Whilst postnatal depression is well-known, mental health problems for new parents are not just postnatal. In fact, experts now suggest that depression is more common in pregnancy than postnatally. Problems go wider than depression too. They can include, for example, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, psychosis, and eating disorders. Some of these problems will occur for the first time when someone becomes a parent, others may be the recurrence of an existing problem – perhaps one that has been well-managed for many years. Some people with pre-existing conditions are particularly at risk: any woman who has ever experienced bipolar disorder, for example, has a 50% chance of mental illness in the weeks after birth, although this can be very effectively managed with specialist help in pregnancy. The severity of mental health problems varies too. Thankfully, most will be relatively mild, but this is not always the case: suicide is actually one of the leading causes of maternal death in the UK.

Mental health problems can be very effectively prevented or treated with the right help, which is why it is so important to speak out early if we think something is wrong in ourselves, our friends or partners. If you feel you or someone you know has a mental health problem, trust your instincts and talk about it. It may be that they are just having a few bad days, but they will still benefit from a supportive conversation and, if they are ill, the sooner they can receive help, the better.

There are a range of options available to prevent, reduce or treat mental health problems. These include support groups, counselling or other forms of psychological therapy, or medication. The best option will depend on the nature and severity of a mum’s illness and her own personality and preferences. Midwives, health visitors and GPs should ask all expectant and new mums regularly about their mental health, and should be able to signpost mums to different sources of support.

There are also things that we can do ourselves to improve our mental health. These may be enough to overcome mild mental health problems, but won’t be sufficient in themselves for women who are more seriously ill. Activities associated with reducing depression and anxiety include socialising, exercising, getting more sleep, and active relaxation (things like mindful mediation or having a massage). These can feel very hard to do when you have low mood and a new baby, which is why it’s good to talk to family and friends so that they can help you to take care of yourself.

Sadly, there are gaps in services in the UK, and some professionals don’t have the skills and knowledge they need to detect mental health problems and give women the support they need. You may need to be persistent and assertive in order to get help.

Things are improving though: the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (a coalition of over 80 charities and professional bodies) is doing a lot to raise awareness and improve services, and earlier this year, the Government announced over £350 million to fund new services.

Parenting is a rollercoaster, and it’s not one that we’ll always enjoy. For most new mums, the highs of this rollercoaster should far outnumber the lows, but a significant minority will be less fortunate. If you feel the balance isn’t right, don’t suffer in silence. You aren’t alone and things can get better.

Sally Hogg is chair of the Oxted & Caterham NCT branch. She also runs the Mums and Babies in Mind project for the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.  They offer some useful self-help guides about recognising and facing maternal mental health issues.

I would like to publish as many stories about maternal mental health as I can to spread awareness. If you would like to write a guest post with your own story or perspective, please email me: themumreviews (at) gmail.com.

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22 thoughts on “New mums and mental health

  1. There really isn’t enough mental health support for new mums (well the entire population of were being honest). I think it is perceived as normal to be in a low mood after a baby, and in many ways of course it is, everything is so over whelming. I don’t think it is always recognised when the low mood is more than ‘normal’. I hope this can change soon.
    #EatSleepBlogRT

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  2. So great to see you talking about this. My sister had post natal depression and it was so hard to see her go through it. I fund being a new mum so overwhelming and was lucky to get a lot of support after Aspen was born or I am sure I would have spiralled down. #eatsleepblogRT

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  3. Oh how badly I had it after my first and in pregnancy with my second. I will think about submitting something. It is the ONE thing I can not seem to write about..

    #familyfun

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    1. I’m so sorry you suffered with it, and it is a difficult thing to write about! Of course happy to post if you decide to. Some people have mentioned that writing just for themselves, without necessarily planning to publish, has been a bit of a weight off of their shoulders too. x

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  4. This is so important – there is so much focus on PND, but, as you said, many people experience mental health issues in pregnancy, or months or even years after the birth of their child. More needs to be done to raise awareness of this so women (and men) can get the support they need. #FamilyFun

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  5. What a fantastic post. More needs to be done to ensure new parents have a positive mental health. It’s routine for health visitors to come and check the baby, but what about the parents? They are handed the baby at the hospital and that’s it.. Awareness definitely needs raising! #familyfun

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  6. In hindsight I think I may have been struggling more than was ‘normal’ after I’d had my second baby. I was managing with an 18 month old as well as him, with no family around and I felt like a complete failure. Add to that tiredness, etc I thought it was just one of those things. But I wish I’d asked for help as there were days when I just wished I wasn’t a mother as I struggled to cope. 5 months on and I’m feeling ok again, but I think that’s because I’ve started looking after myself more, my hubby is helping out more and I manage to get out of the house on my own. I guess for me, the question is when do you know if you need help or if you’re just struggling through a difficult phase? #ablogginggoodtime

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    1. I think that is a difficult line to draw. Worrying that their problem is just ‘normal’ and not enough to get help stops people from getting help even when they do need it. I’m hoping that by spreading awareness and removing stigma people will at least be able to admit they are struggling to those close to them and be aware that there is help available and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Thanks for sharing your experience x

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  7. This was a really insightful post with some surprising statistics. Being a parent is hard and it can be isolating my local baby group was my lifeline and is for so many and can help so many mums struggling with post natal mental health issues or just the challenges of having a new baby. They can a lifeline for so many. Thanks For sharing this at #familyfun xx

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  8. Getting the help that is needed is definately needed. Our health vistors in the area are spot on in keeping up to date with us and mental health questionairres are given. It is hard to be honest though when you get a question like. Have you felt suicidal at any point in the last week? I don’t think it was as blunt as this but at the time I was like no and the answer was no but some of the questions, I think one was around tiredness, the answer was a definate yes but it was something that I expected. Anyway the point I am trying to make is that it’s hard to admit to something. I have a good support network and had good groups to attend and went walking daily I still felt low at times but managed to keep going and push through this.. Thanks for linking up to #familyfun.

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    1. I agree it’s hard to admit and it seems odd when health visitors are quizzing you. I remember feeling defensive when this happened and didn’t want to be labelled as “not coping”.

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  9. This is very informative and we certainly need to let Mums it’s ok to feel like this. Falling in love with your baby doesn’t always happen instantly. Being a new Mummy is hard work, we have to grieve for our former lives and our hormones have to have a party with out us. Sadly there are few support services on offer for health visitors to refer into now due to cuts but if anyone is suffering they should mention it to hv’s and GP’s and do persist tell your partner or family members the old adage a problem shared is a problem halved. It is so important to have some help whether professional or family and friends it doesn’t go away without some support.

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