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Talking about mental health and parenthood

Blog post | 08 Nov 2019

When they first learn they are going to be parents, everyone has expectations about how life is going to be. Images on TV and in the media give us a picture of perfect mums and dads, and settled babies. In fact, parenthood is often very different.

Talking about mental health is something many new and expecting parents are afraid of, often because they fear they will be seen either as a bad parent or a failure.

PANDA Week 2019, which starts on Sunday 10 November, focuses on the importance of looking after your mental health and of not being afraid to speak up and talk about it.

‘I should be happy that I’m pregnant…but why do I feel sad?’

During your pregnancy, there is so much happening to your body, that you can easily overlook your own mental health. Added to this, many people don’t recognise the signs and symptoms of a mental health issue or where they can go for help.

Some of the common signs to look out for during pregnancy include:

  • panic attacks
  • feeling worried
  • anxious
  • stressed
  • feeling sad
  • trouble sleeping
  • recurring thoughts that won’t go away

Apart from the physical and hormonal changes that happen to your body during pregnancy, there are also plenty of practical worries that many parents experience during this time. Worrying about finances, health, relationships and thinking about how you will look after your baby when they arrive, can also affect your mental health.

You might well feel any or all of these symptoms at some time during your pregnancy, but if you are repeatedly having these feelings or they just won’t go away, then it’s time to talk to your doctor.

Dianne Zalitis, midwife and clinical lead for Pregnancy, Birth and Baby, recently talked about recognising mental health issues on the Babyology podcast.

“Sometimes, you’re not always the person to recognise that you need the help," Dianne says, "and that might be why you don’t always put your hand up for it. So, when you are really unwell, it’s hard for you to see that you are unwell, but your partner can, or your family can, or your friends can.”

Dianne continued, “while people know a baby is a big change coming, the level of that can be a shock and be really hard to prepare for.”

According to Dianne, there are several things you can do to prepare yourself. She recommends attending childbirth classes, planning ahead for the practical side of things and asking for help from family and friends.

“While people know a baby is a big change coming, the level of that can be a shock and be really hard to prepare for.”

Spending time with your partner and making notes about your expectations and worries around having a baby and how you might deal with them is also a good way to help prepare you both for the future.

‘My baby has finally arrived, but I feel like a failure’

There will be times when nothing goes right, the baby is crying, you feel like a wreck because you haven’t had any sleep and the house is a mess…but that’s okay and it’s normal!

Most women experience the ‘baby blues’ after having a baby, but this usually passes after a few days. However, 1 in 7 Australian women will experience postnatal depression in the first 12 months of motherhood.

During this time, if you feel like something is not right, get help immediately. The sooner you can get help, the sooner you will start to feel better.

It’s also important to know that you don’t always have to see your doctor if you think something is wrong. During your pregnancy, the midwives will ask you questions to see how you are going. Once your baby arrives, midwives and then child health nurses will continue to talk to you and ask questions about your mental health.

Dad may need help too

It’s not just new mums who can experience anxiety and depression during pregnancy and parenthood. Depression in men can start when their partner is pregnant and can get worse after the baby is born.

“The problem for men and for expecting dads is they are not in the system, like the pregnant woman is," Dianne says, "they may be going off to visits and checks, but that is still all focused on her and the baby, a little bit on him, but generally not. He’s a little bit out of that loop, a little bit marginalised in this whole process. So, it’s really important that everybody be kind of aware that it can happen for him.”

Seeking help as early as possible is the best way to avoid any long-term effects on dad’s mental health and family relationships.

Where to go for help

Your doctor, midwife or child health nurse should be able to help you with any mental health issues that you are dealing with. However, if you need advice or support, you can also contact the PANDA National Helpline on 1300 726 306.

You can hear more of Dianne’s conversation, ‘How to get your brain ready for a baby’ on the Babyology podcast.

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

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