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Let's talk about Maternal Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but did you know that 3-9th May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK?

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week is a weeklong campaign dedicated to talking about mental illness women experience while pregnant or after having a baby. It encourages us to have honest, open conversations about our struggles, and the focus is on providing information and resources to help mums and their families cope with and recover from maternal mental health issues.  

What is maternal mental health?

Officially, maternal mental health - also called perinatal mental health - is related to your state of mind any time from becoming pregnant up to a year after you give birth.

Having a baby is a huge life event and it’s totally natural to experience a wide range of emotions when you’re pregnant and after giving birth. But it’s when those emotions start becoming too much to deal with – when they’re consuming your day-to-day life – that you may be experiencing maternal mental health problems. These problems can start specifically in pregnancy or after labour, or they can be an episode of a problem you’ve experienced in the past.  

How common are mental health issues in new mums?

More common than you’d think. More than 1 in 10 women experience a mental health issue while pregnant or within a year of giving birth, and 7 in 10 women will hide or downplay their struggles. So if you’re pregnant or a new mum and you’re finding things hard to the point you’re not sure you can cope, you really aren’t alone. There is help available, and Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week is all about giving women access to that support when they need it most.

Why is it so important to talk about maternal mental health?

The stat given above – that 7 in 10 women hide their mental health problems during pregnancy or after giving birth – might be shocking to some. But if you’ve had a baby, you’ll know all too well the pressure on women to ‘have it all’, both while pregnant and when your baby is born. We’re expected to carry on as ‘normal’, working right up to our due dates, never slowing down, not resting properly. And then when we have a baby in our arms, it’s straight back to it – ‘snapping’ back into shape, getting back to work, taking on the parenting juggle and documenting it all in perfectly-posed Insta snaps to prove your worth. It is exhausting.

The expectation for women to transition easily into motherhood is so great that it’s really no wonder so many of us hide our struggles for fear of being branded a ‘bad mother’. Standing up and saying ‘I can’t cope with this, I need help’ is an incredibly hard thing to do, but it’s something we should all be encouraging and normalising.

Frank, open and honest conversations about the difficulties of motherhood and the serious mental health problems that can affect pregnant women and new mums need to take place so we can break down those barriers and get women the help and support they need. We’ve seen it happen for mental health in general, although there is still a way to go, and even further to go where maternal mental health is concerned. But if we start these conversations now, we’re starting the journey towards acceptance and treatment for all.

How can I get help or help someone I know?

If you’re struggling with maternal mental health issues, there is help and support available.

The first step is to speak up, and that can often be the hardest thing. If you can, go to someone you trust – whether that’s a partner, a relative, a friend or a colleague. Be as honest as you can about how hard you’re finding things and tell them you need their help to recover.

The person you confide in can help you research the things you’re feeling and find support online – Mind has a comprehensive section about maternal mental health with lots of information, advice and links to support groups.

During Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week on 3-9th May, you’ll find lots of resources being shared online – the campaign is run by Perinatal Mental Health Partnership, so their social media channels could be a helpful place to start. And when you feel ready, you can contact your midwife or GP to talk about the different treatments available.

If you or someone you know is struggling with maternal mental health, it’s not something that should be dealt with alone. Please reach out and find the help you need to recover.

Find more advice for new mums in our breastfeeding tips post.

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