Mental health should be part of every woman’s birth plan. Here’s why Lauren Keegan
sRegency is a time of change and uncertainty. We plan the birth, we plan the birth but we have no complete control over either outcome. What we do know for sure is that one in five women will experience perinatal anxiety and depression.
This isn’t to say that planning for the birth and baby isn’t important — it does.
Even a plan that may change helps women feel less anxious and more in control of their childbirth experience. Indeed, it is necessary to consider the shocking statistic One in three mothers experience childbirth as traumatic.
Therefore, when the odds stack against us, whether in terms of our mental health or the birth experience, postpartum mental health should be an integral part of every woman’s birth plan.
Picture this: You’re about to have a baby and all you have to do is check off your “to-do” list.
hospital bag? check.
Approval of maternity leave. check.
Home cooked meals in the freezer. check.
Mental health support plan. wait what?
yes. Why not plan ahead? Postpartum mental health is something I talk about with all pregnant women in my clinical practice. However, there are many women who have perinatal mental health risk factors who do not receive psychological support during pregnancy.
And what are those risk factors?
Well, there are a lot of them, I’m afraid. Being a pregnant woman is one of them. Women are more likely to develop mental illness in the perinatal period (pregnancy up to 12 months after birth) than at any other time in their lives. Hormones are thought to play a role, but perinatal mental illness is much more than just a “hormonal imbalance.”
Those particularly at risk are women who experience symptoms of anxiety or depression during pregnancy, a history of anxiety or depression, a family history of mental health problems, a history of trauma, grief and loss (including pregnancy loss), and a lack of process and social and emotional support.
So if one in five pregnant women meet the criteria for perinatal mental illness at some point in their early motherhood journey, why isn’t mental health planning a normal part of preparing for parenthood? Especially when we know “wait and see.”“ The approach can be harmful for both the mother and the baby.
Why is early intervention so important?
On top of affecting women, prenatal anxiety and depression can affect fetal development while postpartum anxiety or depression can affect the mother-infant relationship. Babies are very sensitive and get along with their primary caregivers. Early support for the mother can mean better outcomes for the children.
So, if you are pregnant with a baby, how can you prepare yourself for the postpartum period?
Well, you know yourself well. What happens when you are tired or stressed? Do you feel anxious or irritable? Do you sleep a lot or not? Do you worry about things or feel your emotions all over the place? Do you tend to distance yourself from others or seek company? When we embrace it we tend to follow similar behavior patterns. These are your early warning signs.
Consider your practical support. Who will be there to clean the house, do the laundry, and cook the meals? Surround yourself with people who will take care of the “home” things so you can recover from childbirth and bond with your baby. And if you don’t have practical support but can afford it, postpartum help can be hired to support you after your baby is born.
Identify your emotional support (it may be different from the people you turn to for practical help). Are you likely to reach out to them if you feel overwhelmed? If not, arrange for them to check in with you.
If a friend says to you, “Reach out if you need anything,” tell them, “I probably won’t. It would be best if you checked in with me.” Let your partner or other emotional support know what you’ll need from them when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
If you don’t have a trusted person to confide in, know that you are not alone.
Perinatal support services are available both in person and through Telehealth across Australia. Talking to a professional can help you prepare emotionally for childbirth and parenthood, work through grief and loss, prepare for maternity leave or help you think about relationship or communication patterns you may want to change when you become a parent.
Parenting brings many challenges, but if we plan what can be planned and access support early, we can reduce the stress on families. Let’s make mental health a normal part of the conversation when planning a baby.
Lauren Keegan is a Registered Psychiatrist Extensive perinatal experiencemother and a clerk
In australia you can access panda The National Helpline is at 1-300-726-306 Monday through Saturday