This week is Maternal Mental Health Matters Week 2018. With more than 1 in 10 mums developing a mental illness during pregnancy or in the year that follows it is becoming increasingly important that we raise awareness of maternal mental health and encourage those who are struggling with their emotions to speak out and get the support they need.
Pregnancy is rife with emotional and hormonal changes and these can really affect the way you feel on a daily basis. This can mean one day you are really excited, but the next you are left anxious and worried. Although this is completely normal, particularly in the first trimester as pregnancy hormones are changing and increasing it can be really difficult to deal with. These changes can be more challenging for first time mums who have never experienced pregnancy before and aren’t aware of what to expect. The extreme mood swings that couple these changes can also be damaging to your relationships with those closest to you and this in turn can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
I suffered with depression after my first child was born. He was a December baby and I don’t think the winter months helped the situation, but I do think the signs were there early on now looking back. However, I hadn’t identified the signs and didn’t talk to anyone about how I was feeling. Out of my group of friends I was the first to have a child, I didn’t have a mum around for support and although my friends were there for me and would always have listened to me if I had needed their love and support, they didn’t really know what it was like. After all I was supposed to be the happiest I had ever been, welcoming a child in to the world.
I ignored the signs initially, especially after the birth. I had heard about the ‘baby blues’ but I knew when the feelings persisted that it was more than that and soon enough others could see too, I couldn’t keep up the pretence.  It wasn’t just the birth of my son that led to all this, there were many other things going on at the time but postnatal depression can creep up on anyone at any time for many reasons. One thing many new mums experience is loneliness. According to a report by the British Red Cross, young motherhood can be just as lonely as divorce or bereavement.  The difficulty is that not enough mums are honest about their feelings or their daily struggles. Although, for some of us, our entry in to motherhood is unequivocally the loneliest, most difficult experience of our lives. The experience of the expectation versus the reality is a shock in itself. Perfect filtered snaps all over Facebook and Instagram versus the reality of exploding nappies and overly greasy hair and a wobbly tum! I felt like I hadgone from doing well in the workplace to suddenly floundering in the foreign world of motherhood, lost in a mist of sleep deprivation and wondering what on earth had just happened. Something I expected to have come so naturally to me, but was actually so difficult and physically and mentally exhausting. These feelings alone were isolating.  Although I loved my new baby, some days I felt I was failing in my new role and this fuelled the isolation as if I believed that opening up about how I was feeling would make me a bad mother and change others perception of me.
So what sort of things can help….or what helped me?
Making new mummy friends!
At this stage in your life you need other like-minded people who are also going through the same thing at the same time. This was a godsend to me and after my first the group of ladies I became friends with were an incredible support to me and will always be friends I will carry close to my heart. We spent most days together during maternity leave, drinking coffee, going to the park and to playgroups and occasionally drinking far too many cocktails in our favourite little bar in West Didsbury (without the babies of course).  With my second baby I joined NCT classes and met another amazing group of ladies. We have a Whatsapp group and in the early days would chat in the middle of the night when we were up feeding. Just knowing someone else was up at the same time put a smile on my face and was really comforting. Talking to each other about the daily struggles you are facing can make you feel so much better.
Get out!
Sitting at home all day is great on some days but going for a walk, or braving a baby group on your own is great for both you and your baby and a great way of meeting other mums. It’s not always easy when you have other children and therefore other responsibilities but sitting at home getting stressed about all the things you need to do isn’t going to do you any good so getting out will help you forget about many of those worries.
Take a nap
Catching up on lost sleep is a necessity. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture and a quick 30 minute nap ill make all the difference if you can.
Accept help
Accepting help from others can be hard at times, especially if you are a proud person, but noone finds motherhood a walk in the park, no matter what it looks like from the outside. So if a family member or friend offers help then take it. You will feel better for it.
Talk to someone. A problem shared is a problem halved, or so they say. It may not always solve the problem, but talking to someone about how you are feeling can instantaneously lift your mood. Sometimes just getting everything off your chest can make you feel less alone in your own mind. Being honest with other mothers is so much more beneficial than pretending to be on top of everything all of the time and you will be more respected for you honesty. As much as we all want to be super-mum all of the time, 99% of the time it isn’t possible, so be kind to yourself and look after yourself. A happy mum will mean a happy home and

However if none of the above help then it is really important to seek other support sooner rather than later. As well as talking to your midwife or GP there are other organisations that can help, such as PANDAS, Mind and APNI (Association for Postnatal Illness) or have a look on the NHS website for more information.