Mother’s Day is a wonderful opportunity for mums to reflect on their journey to becoming a mum. If they’re lucky, they can look back and celebrate it.
However we know that for many women their experience of becoming a mum wasn’t easy. About one in five will have experienced perinatal anxiety or depression, a serious mental illness that occurs during pregnancy and in the first year after birth.
It’s a treatable illness, and with the right support most mums recover and move on with their lives, going on to enjoy a happy and healthy parenthood.
If this is you, all power to you! But what happens if you’re planning another baby? What if you really struggled with a previous child, either during pregnancy or after the birth, and you’re worried you may encounter similar problems again?
We know that if you’ve previously experienced perinatal anxiety or depression then you’re at increased risk of experiencing mental health issues with another child. This is true whether it’s your second, third or any subsequent baby.
So if this Mother’s Day you’re tossing around the idea of trying for another baby, or if you know one’s on the way, it’s important to do some planning in advance for how you’ll manage your mental and emotional wellbeing during pregnancy and after having the baby.
Strategies for seeking help sooner
PANDA often receives calls on our National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline from expecting mums who have previously experienced emotional distress in becoming a parent and who are concerned a similar experience might affect them again. If these women received mental health treatment and developed strategies to manage their emotional wellbeing they often tell us they actually feel better equipped and more confident in dealing with any symptoms should they arise again.
Many other expecting mums, looking back, believe they may have experienced perinatal anxiety or depression, even if it was not formally diagnosed at the time. These women are more likely to have missed out on treatment and support. PANDA’s National Helpline supports these women to explore what prevented them from reaching out for help when they experienced feelings that concerned them. We also help women plan what they will do should they experience the same difficult feelings or encounter similar or new challenges this time around.
Plan how you’ll manage challenges
If the same circumstances that contributed to someone’s previous difficulties are likely to occur again – for example an unsupportive partner, financial difficulties, isolation, exhaustion, stress or shame – it’s important for people to plan how to manage these challenges so they will be more likely to seek support if these issues become a problem.
Be aware of changes to your mental health
If you have experienced a previous mental illness and are planning to become a parent again, try to be aware of any changes in your mental health over time.
If you do start to feel unwell, try to remember that reaching out for help from loved ones, health professionals or organisations like PANDA is not a reason for shame or a sign of weakness. It’s actually an indication that you’re trying to do what’s best for your family.
As a general rule, if your symptoms persist for two weeks or more, and negatively affect your daily life and functioning, then it’s time to seek support.
Tap into the support around you
One of the advantages of being a pregnant woman is that it is a stage of life when you are usually provided with more health care than at other times. We don’t live in a perfect world, and no health system is perfect, including Australia’s. However, being pregnant often means you will be seeing a number of health professionals such as doctors, midwives and others whose job it is to support expecting families through the pregnancy and birth. This may happen through your hospital or in your community.
Those people who are supporting you during your pregnancy and after the birth can advise you on seeking support and treatment options if you’re struggling. Try to take advantage of this. If you experience any symptoms, thoughts or feelings that worry you, speak to a health professional at one of your scheduled appointments. Or even better, rather than waiting for an appointment that might be days or weeks away, make a new appointment as soon as you notice that you’re starting to struggle.
Understand your emotional wellbeing
You can also fill out one of PANDA’s Mental Health Checklists for Expecting and New Parents, which have been designed to help you monitor and understand your emotional wellbeing during pregnancy and after the birth of your baby. The results page you receive after completing your checklist can also help you speak to your doctor or other health professional about any thoughts or feelings that worry you.
You can take control of your wellbeing on your journey to becoming a parent again. Looking after yourself helps to ensure that this journey is as safe and enjoyable as possible for you and for your baby.
The Bub Hub is proud to support PANDA
If you – or anyone you know – is struggling with perinatal anxiety or depression, you can call PANDA’s free National Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Helpline (1300 726 306). The service offers counselling, information and referral services with ongoing telephone support for families throughout Australia. The helpline operates Monday to Friday from 9am to 7:30pm EST.
Visit www.panda.org.au for more information and to access the Mental Health Checklists.