This week is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, a campaign dedicated to talking about mental illness during and after pregnancy. The theme this year is supporting women during difficult times. The event is run by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance and they bring together a wealth of information in order to support women during this period of their life.
Pregnancy will cause most women to feel some level of anxiety, uncertainty and often loneliness. Understandably pregnancy brings with it new anxieties; worry about the baby, about the birth, how you will cope with a new-born, how your finances or family dynamics will change. All of these things can be overwhelming. Pregnancy also brings about huge changes in hormones which adds to the fluctuating emotions and you may also be struggling with physical symptoms such as sickness, poor sleep and exhaustion.
So to be experiencing these stages of your life in the middle of a global pandemic is likely to be extremely unsettling. The potential for facing mental health issues will only be exacerbated by the anxiety relating to health concerns, financial and economic uncertainty and social isolation. Pregnant women are also faced with changes to their antenatal care and their plans for labour, which will add to the lack of control often felt during pregnancy. Many people have lost access to their support networks, whether that's chats with friends and family, antenatal groups or exercises and classes which help to manage symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.
During pregnancy, women often experience severe anxiety relating to controlling their environment, avoiding perceived germs or infection and may become obsessive about cleaning or completely avoiding situations that increase this anxiety. This could be a sign of one type of maternal OCD and these constant intrusive thoughts can become overwhelming. This can make you feel very isolated from those around you as you may not be able to tell them how you feel or maybe you can't understand why they are not adhering to the same level of control as you are. Just being around people or certain situations can be terrifying. For people suffering with these thoughts, it's highly likely the current situation will be adding fuel to this fire and it may be even harder for you to recognise and also harder for you to feel you can ask for help. But if you feel as though these types of thoughts are becoming overwhelming it is important to seek help and they can be managed with the right support.
Many people talk about blooming and glowing in pregnancy, so when you're feeling anxious, overwhelmed and depressed you may be reluctant to talk about it. But these negative feelings are not unusual at all, with as many as 10-15% women suffering mental health problems during pregnancy (and that's in a non-pandemic world). The severity of feelings and symptoms can vary from person to person and even from day to day.
If you are struggling during your pregnancy you should ask your GP or midwife for support, your mental health is always as important as your physical health. You will most likely be referred to a perinatal mental health team, who should be able to offer support during your pregnancy, they can offer therapeutic support (talking therapies) or medication and it will be up to you and the team to work out the best steps to take for you. Talking therapies can generally be offered quickly during pregnancy, but this will of course depend on your local area.
You may be reluctant to mention difficulties, physical, mental or emotional, to your maternity providers at the moment, so as not to add to their workload, but pregnancy care is an essential service and for good reason. So please share your concerns, no matter how big or small they may be. Whatever is going on in the world at the moment, your pregnancy and your baby are still the most important thing to you and your healthcare team.