How stressed or anxious should I be before I get help?

It’s natural to feel a bit stressed or anxious when you’re pregnant. If you are struggling with these feelings you may need help.

There are no rules about how stressed you must be before talking to your midwife or GP about how you feel. You can talk to a healthcare professional at any time if you have any concerns during your pregnancy. The sooner you ask for help, the sooner you can get the right support, if you need it.

Up to 1 in 5 women develop mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth. Low mood, anxiety  and depression  are common.

Pregnancy can be a very emotional experience  and it can sometimes be difficult to know whether your feelings are manageable or a sign of something more serious. Trust yourself. You are the best judge of whether your feelings are normal for you.

Guilt for not feeling happy

Many people expect pregnancy to be a time full of joy and excitement, but this isn’t the case for everyone. Some women who have problems with their mental health in pregnancy or afterwards feel guilty or embarrassed about their feelings.

Try to remember that a mental health condition is not a sign of weakness, something that will go away on its own or that you should just ‘snap out of’. Just like any physical health problem, mental health conditions need treatment.

 "I felt very tired, every time I sat down I'd doze off to sleep. I never seemed to feel that glowing period that everybody talks about." Emily. Read more... 

Some women worry that if they ask for help for their symptoms, people will think they can’t care for their baby and they will be taken away. Others worry that they haven’t felt that ‘instant bond’ with their bump or new born baby.

These are natural feelings and any anxiety is understandable. But healthcare professionals work really hard to get mums with mental health problems well so they can look after their children.

Don’t be afraid to tell your midwife, doctor or health visitor how you’re feeling at any time.

Talk to someone

You can talk to your midwife or GP at any time if you’re worried about your mental health. You should speak to them if:

  • you feel low, depressed or anxious most of the time for more than two weeks
  • anxiety is making you feel physically ill with fast heartbeat, fast breathing, sweating, feeling faint, feeling sick and diarrhoea.
  • you have panic attacks.
  • you have unpleasant thoughts that keep coming back and you can’t control them.
  • you find yourself repeating an action (like washing, checking, counting) to feel better.
  • you are so afraid of giving birth that you don’t want to go through with it
  • you feel like you can’t cope.

Find out more about where and when to get support with your mental health.

Telling your midwife, GP or health visitor about how you feel is the first step on your road to recovery. They will want to ask you some questions to understand a bit more about what symptoms you have.

This will help them talk to you about what treatment and support is available to help you feel better.

"That was all I needed, to get it out, to speak to someone, feel that I wasn't completely alone." Sarah. Read more...

If you have a mental health problem

Pregnancy, giving birth and caring for a baby can affect women with existing mental health problems in different ways. Even if your condition is being managed well now, your symptoms could come back or get worse during pregnancy or in the weeks or months after birth.

This can sometimes happen quickly after childbirth and can become more serious.

Do not stop taking any medicine for mental health problems before talking to a doctor. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms, particularly if stopped abruptly, or it could make your symptoms come back or get worse.

Your healthcare team will talk to you about any prescription medications you are taking and your options. These may include:

  • taking prescribed medications if you are not already taking any
  • carrying on with your current medication
  • changing your medication to something with a lower risk of side effects for you and baby
  • stopping your medication gradually
  • using other treatments instead of medication e.g. talking therapy

“Talking therapy worked the best for me. I actually felt lighter at the end of every session, even though I used to dread going to it every week. I was able to work through so much before my second child was born that I felt so much more in control the second time around. It saved me.”

Maria

To help you decide the best course of action, your healthcare professional will talk to you about:

  • how unwell you have been in the past
  • how quickly you have become unwell if you have stopped medication
  • what medications have helped you the most
  • if any medications have caused side effects.
Find out more about the support and treatment options that might be available

Sources

The Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (February 2017) Maternal Mnetal Health – Women’s Voices https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/information/maternalmental-healthwomens-voices.pdf

NICE (2013) Antenatal and postnatal mental health: clinical management and service guidance National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

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Last reviewed on October 18th, 2018. Next review date October 18th, 2021.

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