When you’re pregnant, your mind is often preoccupied with the impending birth and your growing baby’s needs.
But it’s also the perfect time to think ahead to your own emotional needs in the weeks after your baby is born to help reduce your risk of postnatal depression and anxiety. There are known factors that put people more at risk so there are things you can do now that could help lessen your risk later.
Thinking ahead to reduce your risk of postnatal depression
You are perfect for your baby
Don’t be fooled by the image of the perfect mother. There is no such thing. Your baby has no way of comparing you to your ideal. The bond with your baby is a relationship and, like all relationships, it can take time to get to know each other. You might find it harder on some days than others. It is perfectly natural to feel ambivalent about being a mother at times. It doesn’t make you a lesser one. It just means you are human.
With a myriad of different philosophies on baby care, you may feel bombarded with conflicting advice and ideas. Recognise that you are the expert on your baby. Trust your own instincts and pick and choose what works best. And remember that your baby hasn’t read the same parenting books as you! Although babies have similar needs, each has its own unique temperament and challenges. Your baby will keep changing and developing so a flexible approach often works best.
Go with the flow
Accept that the early weeks will revolve around feeding and sleeping. With your baby needing you a good deal of the time, it’s unlikely you will have control over your daily schedule (especially during the peak unsettled times between three to eight weeks). In the early days, feeding yourself and resting may need to be prioritised over doing laundry and cleaning. Having realistic expectations will help you to let go of your ‘to-do’ list and just go with the flow.
Expect to worry
Mothering and worrying tend to go hand-in-hand. Being concerned about the development and safety of your baby is nature’s way of ensuring their survival. It’s a sign that you are emotionally attached and that’s positive. You can lessen unnecessary worry by not thinking too far ahead or projecting potential worst-case scenarios. Adjusting to this new responsibility takes time so gently bring your mind back to the present moment in the early weeks.
Embrace the challenges
Nobody said it was going to be easy. Try adopting a ‘just do it’ attitude when attending to the baby’s needs without critiquing yourself or getting caught up in how hard you are working. Recognise the importance of all that you are doing no matter how tedious, tiring and underappreciated it may seem. A sense of satisfaction and pride will come from your efforts in time.
Keep connected with your partner
Having a baby is a life-changing event—for you and your partner. Try to support each other rather than turning things into a competition about who is working harder. Your relationship will evolve over this time and the more you communicate, the more equipped you will be to manage the changes and stay connected. Your partner is not a mind-reader so let them know what you need from them and how they can support you best.
Ask for help
The work of a mother is constant, often unseen and never complete. Give yourself permission to ask for help when you need it. Identify friends and family members who can provide you with support to cook, clean or care for others—including yourself. And if anyone offers help, accept it. Take advantage of community services if you don’t have the support you need. Let go of the unrealistic mantra ‘I should be able to do it alone.’
Don’t hide your feelings
Lean on your support system for emotional support as well. Find a confidante. Don’t be ashamed to express your fears, fatigue or frustrations. If the birth or breastfeeding don’t go to plan, talk these things through early with someone who can assist you. Sharing your experience with others can help you to feel better and to know that you are not alone.
But remember, while it’s normal as a new mother to experience a range of positive and negative emotions, if you are struggling to understand your thoughts or feelings and it’s affecting your day-to-day life and functioning, then don’t wait. If you’ve experience these symptoms for two weeks or more, speak to your partner, a friend or your GP about getting professional support to help you through the experience.
If you are anyone you know if struggling with perinatal anxiety or depression speak to your GP or health care professional. You can also call PANDA’s free National Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Helpline on 1300 726 306. The helpline operates Monday to Friday from 9am to 7:30pm EST.