may 2021

Looking after your maternal mental health

A first hand maternal mental health experience, written by a PANDAS charity volunteer, and her tips on how to manage it in a positive way

PANDAS Foundation UK baby birth recovery new mum
how to look after maternal mental health

I'm Geraldine a 34, married mum of two kids aged 9 and 3. I'm originally from Northern Ireland but have lived in Edinburgh for 17 years.

I am a carer in one job and a support worker for mental health in my other. I am also in my fourth year of studying for a STEM degree part time, with my degree focus mainly being on a mental health pathway. I volunteer on the helpline for the amazing perinatal mental health charity PANDAS.

“Looking after your mental health.” It makes it sound like it is something that needs cared for, nurtured and tended to. Well actually, it is. I have learned through having my own struggles with my mental health that sometimes, little things we can do ourselves, can really help.

I have suffered with anxiety for most of my life, postnatal depression after my first child and severe postnatal anxiety after my second. While I did get professional support eventually, I found other ways to manage my mental health in a positive way too.

  • Firstly, exercise. Please do consult with your midwife to make sure this is safe and only perform exercise that is comfortable and safe to do so. However, it doesn’t have to be at the gym. A brisk walk, maybe some squats at home, go up and down the stairs a few times. Exercise is known to release endorphins which has a positive effect on mental health while also keeping us strong and healthy. This can be kept up even postnatally (once safe to do so). And drink plenty of water!
  • Secondly, self-care. Both pre and postnatally, the focus is usually always on baby, while mum (and dads!) can sometimes feel cast aside a little. Of course a baby is wonderful and exciting, but mentally, check in with yourself as much as you can. Ask yourself, how are you really feeling today? What do you need? And listen to it. Life is strange and stressful at the moment, but if you can even make 5 minutes for yourself to be alone and practice a little self-care, it can have a positive effect on mental health. Turn off the news/social media/phone notifications for 5-10 minutes a day. Have a cup of tea alone, a quiet bath, a walk or just a phone call to someone you love. Listen to what you need and make time for it every single day.
  • Thirdly, BREATHE. So simple, but something we can forget to do properly. People are surprised when they discover there is a “proper” way to breathe. With all the other stresses that can be going on, whether its day-to-day life, work, having other kids etc, being pregnant or having a new baby can become overwhelming. Anxiety can creep in, with some intrusive thoughts thrown in for good measure. As parents we have an overwhelming and primal urge to protect our young that goes back to cave times. However, while in those times we would have protected from sabre tooth tigers, the urge to protect and be on alert is still there. Our sympathetic nervous system is ready to kick in at any moment to prepare us to run away or fight, which can cause overwhelming feelings of panic and anxiety. One way to kick the parasympathetic nervous system back in is to breathe. Look up breathing exercises online as there are lots to choose from, but the easiest is to stop, breathe in for 4 through your nose, hold for 4, out through your mouth for 4 and hold again for 4. Picture a box while you do it. Make sure your tummy rises with the in breath and relaxes on the out breath. Pop a hand on your tummy to feel it if it helps. When anxious, we can breathe too shallow from the chest and it spirals an already scary situation into a much scarier one.
  • Fourth, and finally, talk. To anyone! Whether it’s a friend, family member, midwife, health visitor, GP or one of the volunteers here at PANDAS. It is true that a problem shared is a problem halved. Looking after our mental health both pre and postnatally isn’t something you have to do alone and if there is something that needs help, it can be treated. Don’t suffer alone.

PANDAS is a charity with a mission: ‘To be the UK’s most recognised and trusted support service for families and their networks who may be suffering with perinatal mental illness, including prenatal (antenatal) and postnatal depression.’

Their aim is to make sure no parent, family or carer feels alone. Through a variety of support services, they ensure help is delivered in a way that is right for you and only offer motivational and positive content through their social media channels, which adds to their value for the parents who need help the most.

No one suffering any form of mental illness should feel they’re on their own.

PANDAS Foundation has a free helpline (0808 1961 776), and especially during the pandemic have been inundated with people struggling.

Visit our page to find out more about PANDAS and how you can support and donate to the charity