Having a baby is life-changing and can bring so much joy, love and fulfilment however all of the new demands and responsibilities can feel difficult at times, as well as relentless.
Perinatal Mental Health Awareness Week was celebrated this month from 8-14 November, 2020, so it’s a timely reminder for us to highlight how to keep your mental health in check before and after your baby’s birth. Perinatal Mental Health refers to the time before, during and after your baby’s birth which is a time when mums, dads, and non-birth partners can develop antenatal or postnatal anxiety or depression.
Here are some self-care tips to encourage and support your emotional health, which will enable you to lead a meaningful life with your children.
Young babies need frequent feeds during the night, and the interrupted sleep for parents can take a mental, physical, and emotional toll. Some general tips to get good quality sleep when you can, include:
- Going to bed at the same time each day and making the environment as restful as possible.
- Avoid screen time and exercise at least 1-2 hours before bed, so your body can relax.
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants in the afternoon/evening.
- Dim lights before bed to help settle the body for sleep.
- If you find it hard to sleep at bedtime, do something quiet in another room and try again later
- Short naps of no more than 20 minutes during the day (not in the evening), can help improve your alertness and decision-making when you are getting broken sleep at night. This isn’t the reality for everyone so it may be a case of testing this to see if it works for you.
Staying active – even if it’s just a relaxed walk pushing baby in the pram in the fresh air – will give you a lift. Setting achievable goals, based on your personal circumstances, exercise history and your physical recovery from birth will play a part, so see a doctor for advice first. Here some tips regarding exercise:
- Exercise increases serotonin levels in the brain, which is a hormone that contributes to general happiness and wellbeing.
- When baby is small, aim for just a short morning or afternoon walk with the pram. As time goes on, try to incorporate more active/strenuous workouts (just see your doctor first).
- Breathing classes, mediation or yoga is also beneficial and can help with relaxation. There are some parent-specific websites that cater for this.
Time constraints, hormonal and mood changes can affect the diets and appetites of many new parents.
- If you are struggling to find time to prepare food, aim to include some small protein-based snacks such as yoghurt or nuts during the day.
- Keep a bottle of water with you so you remember to keep hydrated. Dehydration can make you feel irritable and more tired.
- Eggs on toast, sandwiches or nutritious smoothies with vegetables and fruit are ideas for meals that can be prepared quickly.
After years working and being around people, being at home with a baby can be isolating for some parents. Commit to going out or doing things each week where you will be social. Ideas include:
- Making time for yourself and your partner to talk over your feelings together.
- Stay connected with work colleagues and old friends, perhaps with a coffee, meal or movie.
- Develop new friendships with parents, through mothers’ groups, a walking group, play groups, library activities (many libraries host activities for babies and new parents).
Self-compassion can be hard for parents who are irritable, tired and under pressure. Often people who have set high expectations for themselves can carry that into parenthood. It can be helpful to allow your feelings to come up but accept them without judgement or criticism of yourself. Show yourself some kindness. It can help to:
- Understand what triggers stress in your life learn to manage these situations and your feelings.
- Acknowledge that babies are hard work and caring for them is easier if it is a shared journey. Your family and friends can provide emotional and practical support. Don’t be afraid to ask.
- Before going to sleep, do not list or worry about things you haven’t achieved that day. Instead, think instead you managed to do. Then give yourself a pat on the back.
Time out means different things to everyone, but in this case we’re talking about parents who are the primary carers, and how they need to have breaks from the caring role. Sometimes primary carers feel guilty if they schedule time for themselves, so it can be helpful if all family members are supportive and encourage their time out. Some families find the best way to create time out for the primary carer is to structure it. For example, the time or activity each week is set for the primary carer. This can also help with organising someone to look after the baby. If you’re the primary carer it’s important to:
- Have some time out when you need it.
- Plan something special to look forward to. Everyday feelings – happy or sad ones – fluctuate daily in response to what is happening in our lives and is all part of being human. However, if these feelings become overwhelming or they interfere with everyday life it could be time to seek some extra support.
- Time-out activity examples could be a class or activity outside the home, taking a relaxing bath, walking, shopping, listening to music, watching a movie, reading a book, meeting friends, or having a massage.
Mental Health / professional support
If you are struggling, the first step is to recognise that. For some people symptoms of anxiety and depression may appear, while for others the changes might be more subtle. They might be a feeling of not quite coping, feeling low in energy or not feeling yourself.
If you’re not coping:
- Call a helpline to talk about what is on your mind
- Talk to a family member or friends
- Talk to a counsellor
- Talk to your GP for more information and where to get further help.
Trained professionals can help recovery, enabling parents to move on to enjoy rich and meaningful lives with their children.
- COPE have excellent resources for new parents > https://www.cope.org.au/